NBC's Today carried a series on faith this week, and finished it Thursday morning with two liberal journalists about a new website Newsweek is setting up on faith. It all sounded very much like soft-soap Episcopalianism, no doubt because the preacher on the set was Newsweek editor and Episcopalian Jon Meacham, along with Sally Quinn, a writer best known as the wife of former top Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Ann Curry began by saying Meacham and Quinn "started a conversation about religion over lunch one day, and that discussion hasn't stopped." Curry continued:
"It's so interesting to think about how, just, what, 20 years ago, we would not speak about faith in America in any sort of big way. We talked about basically the separation of church and state meant that we didn't speak about church because we felt it was going to inflame and cause problems. What has changed? What has changed fundamentally about America that now lets us talk so much about it? In fact, have it influence policy in America. Sally."
The Friday broadcast network evening newscasts, seemingly with no self-awareness of the role of the traveling press corps, all focused on how in Vietnam President Bush was pressed about comparisons of the Iraq war to the Vietnam war -- a topic he commented on only when asked by a U.S. reporter. CBS was the most adamant in raising parallels, Bush's avoidance of service in Vietnam and how he is now “creating another” Vietnam. Katie Couric declared that Bush “couldn't get away from the inevitable comparisons between Iraq and the war America lost in Vietnam.” Over vintage video of the Vietnam war, Jim Axelrod asserted that the Iraq war “is starting to look more and more like this war. The parallels are plain.” Axelrod contended that “Mr. Bush's trip here was bound to fuel his critics who've never bought his explanation about how he managed to avoid military service in Vietnam. But Iraq raises the stakes and changes the focus from what he did during the Vietnam War to whether he's creating another one. On a just-released audiotape, President Johnson in 1966 shared his goals for Vietnam." Following audio of LBJ promising the U.S. would leave Vietnam “just as soon as you can have anybody that will guarantee stability," Axelrod intoned: "Mr. Bush's remarks today had an eerie echo as he spoke about Iraq."
On ABC's World News, fill-in anchor Elizabeth Vargas insisted "the war in Iraq shadowed President Bush today during his visit to Vietnam” as the Vietnam war “has drawn comparisons to America's experience in Iraq.” From Vietnam, Martha Raddatz echoed Couric: “For President Bush, the comparisons to his own war in Iraq were inevitable.” NBC anchor Brian Williams announced that “the topic of the current war followed” Bush “all the way” to Vietnam. David Gregory, in Vietnam, also used the “inevitable” characterization of the comparison made by journalists: “The White House tried to avoid reflecting on the war in Vietnam because of the inevitable comparisons to the Iraq war.” Gregory asserted that “the obvious parallel between Vietnam and Iraq is the American public's desire to find a way out,” and though the Vietnamese are still oppressed in a communist state, Gregory suggested the U.S. won: “But if there is a hopeful sign in the Vietnam of today, prosperous and western-looking, it is this -- that it is possible to lose the war but win the peace." (Transcripts, and a little bit on the morning shows, follows)
In a surprising moment on Today this morning, NBC Middle East Bureau Chief and self proclaimed pacifist Richard Engel warned of the dangers of pulling out of Iraq too soon. In his reporting, Engel warned that a premature withdrawal could be dangerous on a global scale.
Richard Engel: "As the debate in the U.S. increasingly focuses on finding an exit strategy from Iraq after the Democrats gains in congress, 7,000 miles away, U.S. Troops and Iraqis face tough questions: What will happen on the ground if U.S. Forces leave? What are the options? Analysts say staying the course isn't one of them, but neither is pulling out too quickly."
Chris Matthews is so blatantly anti-Iraq war that any time he's discussing it, he ought to be balanced out but that wasn't the case on this morning's Today show. NBC's Matt Lauer sat idly by as the host of Hardball compared Iraq to Vietnam and demanded the President relent to Democrats and withdraw troops as soon as possible. Matthews even was dismayed that the President still dared to use the word, "victory."
Matthews ranted to Lauer: "I mean the President lost the election. He, he still talks like he won the election. The Democrats who control both houses want to begin withdrawing our troops. It's all about numbers of troops and the timetable for getting them out and the President and Tony Snow right there said they don't, they don't go along with that thinking."
In the giddy aftermath of a Democratic victory, the cheery tone of morning television can begin to look like excessive enthusiasm. On Wednesday morning's Today, co-host Meredith Vieira interviewed Montana's liberal Democratic Senate challenger, Jon Tester, who at the time was narrowly ahead and not yet declared the winner. Vieira noticed that despite the close call, "yet, you have a smile on your face, sir." When asked how he came this far, Tester said people came out to vote for honesty and integrity, about Iraq, and health care.
Vieira perkily concluded: "Well I hope you keep the smile on your face there Jon Tester. Thank you very much. Back to you, Matt."
NBC's Today correspondents on Tuesday made sure to underline that Republicans were seen as racist in the Senate campaigns in Tennessee and Virginia. Reporter Tom Costello began his report:
"Matt, good morning. This has been a hard fought race. It's been injected with advertisements viewed by many as being racist by the Republican National Committee. The Corker campaign repudiated those ads, as did the Ford campaign, of course."
By many? Try "by many Democrats," at least. From there, David Shuster (usually assigned to Chris Matthews on MSNBC), also underlined the alleged-racist angle on the Virginia race:
"Meredith, good morning. A statistical dead heat is not at all where the incumbent Republican George Allen ever thought he would be. Allen had been talked about being a presidential contender in 2008 but his campaign has been set back by a series of missteps including his use of the term macaca and allegations about his use of the N-word to describe blacks, but the key issue in this race has been the Iraq war...
If your morning coffee isn't strong enough to jolt you awake, just watch the Today show. The scaremongering should get your heart skipping a few beats.
On today's edition, reporter Tom Costello picked up on a new study that urges seat belts be added to school buses. Among the findings of the study, 17,000 children a year are injured in school bus accidents.
Nevermind that statistically, school buses are safer for ferrying your kids to school than the family SUV or that seat belts on school buses do more harm than good, as studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have shown.
Oh, did I mention Costello left out that t he American Academy of Pediatrics study also calls for kids to not squirrel around on the bus so as to lessen injuries and for better supervision of kids on buses to prevent injury?
Chris Matthews just couldn't wipe that grin off his face. Interviewing him on this morning's 'Today,' Meredith Vieira began by suggesting that despite the tough electoral environment for Republicans, polls over the weekend were showing movement in their direction. She started to pose a question, but so distracting was Matthews' mugging that she couldn't continue, asking instead "why are you smiling?"
"Because I think it's going to be a wipe-out. I think the Democrats are going to carry the House by 20-some, high-20s and I think the Senate seats are perhaps not six, but five, and I can see a big victory for the Democrats."
Here's an antidote from an unlikely corner for all the Dem outrage at the 'November surprise' of the Saddam verdict. On this morning's 'Today,' none other than Chris Matthews just pronounced his considered opinion that the verdict actually helps . . . the Democrats.
According to Matthews, given the unpopularity of the war, anything that draws attention to Iraq hurts Republicans. Apparently that even extends to a good-news story such as the Saddam verdict. Opined Matthews to host Lester Holt:
"One general rule would be anything that brings attention to Iraq is bad for the Republicans. I think Iraq's become a four-letter word for the voter. And this trial and condemnation of Saddam Hussein is probably going to remind us of Iraq again. It's probably going to help the Democrats to some extent."
Karmic balance? The Dow Jones hits a new high. The 'Dowd' Jones hits a new low. In her pay-to-read column this morning, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times analogizes the relationship of Vice-President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to that of preacher Ted Haggard and a male prostitute.
Setting the titillating tone with her headline, "A Wartime Love Story", Dowd writes:
At the heart of every administration, there is one relationship above all others that shapes history . . . W. is the hood ornament, but Cheney & Rummy are the chitty chitty bang bang engine of this administration.
It’s a beautiful love story, really, even more touching than Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher and Bush White House adviser, asking a male prostitute for crystal meth, or Borat putting a bag over the head of a squealing Pamela Anderson and carrying her off.
As reported here, in a story airing on 'Today' of October 28th, NBC reporter Richard Engel delved into the most private concerns of US soldiers serving in Iraq. Engel queried one solider about his fears of dying in combat, or as he put it:
"You ever worry one day your number's gonna come up?"
Engel also drew soldiers out on their concerns as to the faithfulness of their loved ones back home, inviting them to discuss "the Jody," described by one soldier as "the guy who is back home with your wife or your girlfriend." Added Engel: "They worry and tell stories about soldiers going home to empty houses."
James Carville and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish were invited on this morning's Today show to discuss the impact of John Kerry's gaffe but when Smerconish insisted Kerry wasn't attacking the troops Vieira took that opening to ask: "Do you think it could backfire because it does, again, draw attention to Iraq?" Vieira then tossed the following softball to Carville: "So do you think this, this will have no legs whatsoever then, that's what you're saying James?"
The following is the entire segment as it occurred on the November 2nd Today show:
Meredith Vieira: "So will Senator Kerry's gaffe help the Republicans in the midterm elections? James Carville is a Democratic strategist and author of Take It Back and Michael Smerconish is a Republican radio talk show host and author of Muzzled. Good morning to both of you."
Just yesterday a reader brought to my attention the sudden TV ubiquity of John Harwood. He pointed out that - CNBC and Wall Street Journal credentials notwithstanding - Harwood is a predictable liberal voice. And sure enough, it was none other than Harwood that David Gregory chose for a comment on L'Affaire Kerry on this morning's 'Today.' And darn if that reader wasn't right about Harwood's leftward tilt. Let's read and analyze Harwood's statement:
"It's difficult to see, in a campaign dominated by unhappiness about the Iraq war, how these comments will be a driving force in the last few days."
On this morning's Today show NBC's David Gregory interviewed Michael J. Fox in what was essentially a campaign ad for Democrats and embyronic stem cell research. Gregory went "on the trail," with Fox in Columbus, Ohio in a segment that, with the exception of a very brief soundbite from the President, played like one of those Democratic Convention PR videos.
Gregory let Fox preach for embryonic stem cell research without contradiction as Fox declared: "By most polls 70 percent of Americans are in favor of this issue so, in a way it's put up or shut up time. I mean if you really believe this, we're waiting for you." And while it's perfectly fine and expected to have sympathy for Fox, it's quite different for Gregory to cheer on Fox's agenda, as NBC's White House correspondent seemed to do when he left viewers with these final words:
In the Katie Couric gravitas debate, it's always easy to point out that Tom Brokaw held the same job as Couric, but never dressed up in drag as J-Lo on Halloween like Matt Lauer did. Katie was Mae West and Donald Trump, among others.
This morning was typical -- Lauer and Al Roker were Pirates of the Caribbean -- Lauer was Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, Roker was Davy Jones. Ann Curry was Cher, except as a Cher with no dance moves. But the sleazy kicker was news anchor Natalie Morales as Madonna -- complete with 1990-era cone bra. Not only did she have breasts that could put an eye out, she was shimmying and shaking and pelvis-thrusting like it was midnight at the dance club. Eek, were children watching? (I'd have a better shot, but she was a constant blur as she vamped.) And is this someone we can take seriously when she now reads the latest on housing starts? Or are we going to hear the disco beat of "Express Yourself" in the background?
Viewers of the Maryland Senate debate between Michael Steele and Ben Cardin on Sunday's "Meet the Press" might not have been surprised that the soundbite that "Today" plucked out the next day was the one showing the Republican being pressed about being a Bush-lover. But wait: did Tim Russert balance out that line of questioning with asking Cardin about his fervent support for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy or even Barbara Mikulski? Why, no. Two weeks ago in a Minnesota Senate debate, Russert caused Republican Mark Kennedy to distance himself from Bush, then pressed Democrat Amy Klobuchar to distance herself from Hillary Clinton. That balance didn't occur yesterday. Here's the snippet of Russert that Meredith Vieira offered Monday:
With just a little over a week to go NBC's Today show is cranking up the anti-Bush sentiment and this morning Meredith Vieira and Chris Matthews hammered how Republicans are running away from the President. After NBC's Kelly O'Donnell aired a full report on how Bush is showing up in ads everywhere for Democrats but not for Republicans, Vieira asked MSNBC's Hardball host Matthews to break down the midterms which just allowed Matthews to go on his typical anti-Iraq war tear:
Meredith Vieira: "I know you heard Kelly O'Donnell's report, the President now being featured in more than 160 ads for Democratic candidates. Do you think the strategy is gonna work?"
Katie Couric is trying to talk past her program being stuck in third place (see Monday's chat with Peter Johnson in USA Today), but she really let the fangs show a bit in her interview for the November issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. When asked about published rumors of feuding with Matt Lauer and "high-handed" diva treatment of her staff, Couric grew angry, and sounded a lot like Hillary Clinton:
"I think there are a lot of angry, frustrated people, and I think that sometimes they happen to be writers," she says. "Our society still has a difficult time accepting strong powerful women and not typecasting them as evil, power-hungrylunatics." So, she has decided, "I’m going to be on a blackout for the first few months." Bad press, she says, "can suck your spirit dry."
As Tim Graham reported here earlier this week, NBC reporter Richard Engel, who spends much of his time in Iraq, has declared: "I think war should be illegal...I'm basically a pacifist."
This morning's 'Today' ran a feature Engel had put together focusing on depression among American troops serving in Iraq. Engel spoke with men of the 1st Platoon, 562nd Engineer Company. At one point, Engel asked the soldier pictured here:
"You ever worry one day your number's gonna come up?'"
Replied the soldier, in words echoing those of comrades over the generations: "Yeah, but you try to keep that in the back of your head. You just focus on today and what you've got to do to get it right and bring everybody back home alive."
Friday's morning shows offered more of the same election coverage. On ABC, Kate Snow highlighted how everyone Republican is running from Bush (with Rick Santorum touting his work with Hillary, God forbid) and gave Michael J. Fox another huge soundbite. On NBC, David Gregory explored how Democrats would rule. The first rule: hike the minimum wage.
ABC's Megan McCormack took down the Snow report, which is true enough, but has to play to a regular news viewer like the same old news in heavy rotation:
Chris Cuomo: "It's less than two weeks now until the congressional elections and we're seeing a new trend among GOP candidates: putting some distance between themselves and the White House. Here's ABC's Kate Snow."
With less then two weeks to go before the midterm elections, two separate programs, on two different networks, speculated that the Republicans are colluding with big oil to lower gas prices. The "Today" show wondered if this indicated "a vast right-wing conspiracy."
Fox’s Geraldo Rivera speculated that America was seeing a case of "gas pump pimping."
Meanwhile, ABC’s "Nightline" weighed in on political commercials and lamented GOP "mudslinging." They also characterized Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Michael J. Fox as a "vicious attack." (They apparently didn’t find any mudslinging or vicious attacks done by the Democrats)
CNN had their own take on Limbaugh’s comments. They wondered: "Could it be a new low?"
Speaking of the cable network, CNN also previewed a new Bush special by noting that "many say" the President has "stretched" and "trampled" the Constitution.
Though there's a harbinger of winter in the air here in upstate New York, it didn't prepare me for the hell-freezing-over moment on this morning's 'Today' show. Matt Lauer went to bat for Rush Limbaugh.
Lauer interviewed conservative commentator Laura Ingraham and USC law prof - and Dukakis presidential campaign manager - Susan Estrich about current campaign tactics. Matt set the tone with this question, which implied that - hand-wringing notwithstanding - there's nothing unusual about the level of nastiness in this campaign season:
"A lot of people are running around all flustered right now about these negative ads, these negative comments in the final stages of the campaign. Have you seen anything lately that you haven't seen in campaigns past?"
Agreeing with Lauer's premise, Laura pointed out that there is a time-honored tradition of negative campaigning in America going right back to the Adams-Jefferson campaign of 1796.
When Matt moved to the Fox/Rush matter, I assumed he was going to jump on the Dem/MSM Rush-bashing bandwagon. Instead, in a display of admirable equanimity Lauer observed:
Dick Cheney is the well-known hunter in the family but it turns out his wife, Lynne, can hold her own when it comes to hunting down bias. Cheney came loaded for bear or network anchor when she appeared on this morning’s Today show. On to promote her latest history book for children, Cheney wasn't allowed to leave before NBC’s Matt Lauer queried her about Iraq's effect on the midterms, asking: "Are the Republicans in trouble?" To which Cheney fired back with both guns blazing as she asked Matt, why Today wasn't doing more to report on all the positive economic news.
The following is the full exchange as it took place in the 8:30am half hour of the October 25th Today show:
On this morning's Today show, NBC's Carl Quintanilla floated the kooky conspiracy theory that the oil companies lowered gas prices to help the GOP. Today co-host Meredith Vieira at the top of the show even postulated: "You know the good news is that gas prices are down but do the elections have anything to do with it? In other words are we being manipulated?"
Co-host Matt Lauer fed the conspiracy, when he introduced the segment: "This morning on Today At the Pump, falling gas prices fueling conspiracy theories. The price of a gallon of gas, the average price, is way down to about $2.21 a gallon just in time for the midterm elections. Is it a coincidence? Some people say no."
To: On-Air Personalities From: NBC News Management Subject: Watch your language!
With less than two weeks left before the election, naturally we're all excited at the prospect, after 12 long years in the wilderness, that we will finally be winning back the majority in one or perhaps even both houses of Congress.
With victory this close at hand, it's important that none of us provide any fodder for Republicans - or those annoying right-wing media critics - to claim that we are, well, doing what we're doing - rooting for a Democratic win.
With rare exception, TV stories just don't happen - they're planned. So we can be quite sure that sometime in the last 24 hours or so, a producer at 'Today' sent out the word: "find me a Republican voter in a key state who has decided to vote Democrat this year."
NBC folks on the ground in Ohio obliged, dutifully disinterring Mr. John Gaylord to be trotted out on this morning's show. NBC's David Gregory offered this silk-purse-into-sow's-ear intro:
"For embattled Republicans, despite falling gas prices around the country, the economy might prove a tough sell. An important bellwether for this election is right here in Ohio, where a combination of an unpopular war in Iraq, a slow state economy, and scandal have set off alarm bells for Republicans. John Gaylord, a lifelong Republican, runs a bookstore in suburban Columbus. He may switch his vote this year."
CNN reporter Dan Lothian resorted, not for the first time, to a classic example of liberal bias on Monday’s "American Morning." Beginning a piece on Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s potential White House run, he described the politician’s positioning this way:
Miles O’Brien: "Now, on the Republican side of the race for the White House, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney thinking hard about that. ‘American Morning’s’ Dan Lothian looking at that potential run. Dan, good morning."
Dan Lothian: "Good morning, Miles. Well, polls seem to favor Senator John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the nomination in 2008. But Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney seems to be carving out his base by appealing, political experts say, to the far right. It might feel like he's running for president in 2008, but Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney insists he's just doing his homework."
Meredith Vieira let her anti-war roots show on this morning's Today show. During her interview with White House counselor Dan Bartlett, the Today co-host repeatedly stated about the Iraq policy: "It's not working." Now while constructive criticism on the war policy is welcome from those who want to win, it's somewhat transparent and dubious coming from a longtime war critic like Vieira. The following are Vieira's questions to Bartlett in the 7am half hour of the October 23rd Today show:
Meredith Vieira: "So will the White House change course in Iraq and put more pressure on the government there? Dan Bartlett serves as counselor to President Bush. Mr. Bartlett, good morning to you."
The midterm elections are approaching and some members of the media are revving up their bias. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann recently suggested that President Bush might be as big a threat as the terrorists. This was only a day after referring to conservative talk show hosts who visited the White House as the "Legion of Doom." CNN’s Jack Cafferty wondered if Karl Rove is planning an "October surprise" to salvage the Republicans’ chances in the midterm elections.
The print media have also offered unrestrained attacks from the left. A "Washington Post" report described House Speaker Dennis Hastert appearance as "a cross between Wildford Brimley and Jabba the Hutt." Nothing quite like objectivity, huh? A former "New York Times" bureau chief recently characterized the Christian right as "fascist." Perhaps he’d been chatting with "Newsweek" columnist Jonathan Alter. Alter told Don Imus he hoped the country has seen the last of "values voters."
The "Today" show fawned over Barack Obama, describing him as "electrifying" and a "rock star." This was on the same day that they giddily predicted a "perfect storm" to wipe out the Republicans in the midterms. Another early AM program, CNN’s "American Morning"encouraged author David Kuo to call for Christians to boycott the upcoming election.