Should we look for Matt Lauer to close his next interview of Condi Rice by clasping her hands? Perhaps a verklempt Dick Cheney thanking Campbell Brown for "standing by me through every crisis"? Could be, judging by Al Roker's interview of Star Jones this morning.
OK. Star isn't Secretary of State. She's someone who got bounced as co-host of a televised coffee klatsch. Even so, some of the journalistic values on display were eye-brow raising. For openers, what does it say about Today's news values that the interview, stretching across two half-hours and three segments, was the longest this veteran Today watcher can remember?
And then there was the personal relationship between Al and Star. The flag first went up when Star thanked Al for having phoned her with information: "I actually remember a phone call when you saw something in the paper that I had not even seen that was pretty nasty."
If she was watching 'Today' this morning, you can imagine Hillary Clinton using her best North-Korean-parliament rhythmical clapping in response to what she saw. It might be 'ronery' in her Georgetown or Chappaqua spreads, but it's always heart-warming to know you've got friends at the highest-rated morning show.
The premise was that while Hillary has been a long-time bogeywoman of the right, "these days Clinton's biggest critics aren't necessarily in the GOP." It was noted that "she was recently booed by Democratic audiences for arguing against timetable to pull US troops out of Iraq."
The segment also noted her "split with liberals" in her support for an amendment prohibiting flag burning."
Sure, Tim Russert is a pillar of the great center-left media establishment. You can take the man out of Mario Cuomo's office, but you can't entirely take Mario's office out of the man. Even so, as MSM types go, Russert is among the more fair-and-balanced.
But in his Today show appearance this morning, Tim simply didn't make sense. Asked by Campbell Brown about the White House's anger at the New York Times for its latest divulging on an anti-terror program, Russert responded:
"There is no doubt this was an orchestrated campaign to try to frame this issue of national security versus the media, particularly the New York Times. It resonates with the organized Republican conservative base: taking on the media,liberal media. Remember Spiro Agnew, back in the Nixon administration: the 'nattering nabobs of negativism.'
The disgust of conservatives directed at the New York Times after the newspaper on Friday again undermined national security, this time by taking the lead in exposing a program to monitor international financial transactions by terrorist operatives, hasn't much disturbed the broadcast networks. While the cable news channels have been filled with coverage, especially after President Bush on Monday called the disclosure “disgraceful,” the CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer hasn't touched the controversy -- though it has made time for stories on how at Wimbledon women are paid less prize money than men and on a left-wing (un-labeled) group's efforts to raise the minimum wage -- and other broadcast network coverage has questioned the administration's motives.
On Monday night, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell asserted that “today's coordinated White House assault is more than simply shared frustration. Analysts say there is political upside as well." Tuesday, on NBC's Today, co-host David Gregory doubted the White House, wondering “whether we should be taking their word for it. That these are legal programs, inappropriate programs. Do you think the administration has earned the right, has any administration earned the right in this kind of war to protect that kind of secret?" Chris Matthews replied: "Well not this one.” On CBS's Early Show, Harry Smith called the paper an “easy target” and suggested: "Is this just a way to attack the evil media or does he have a legitimate beef here?" Meanwhile, on Tuesday's GMA, ABC's Jessica Yellin featured New York Times reporter Eric Litchblau's insistence that “we're not trying to tilt the debate, we're not trying to influence the debate one way or the other. We're just trying to inform the public debate," as well as a great zinger from radio talk show host Scott Hennen about how the Times has become “a terrorist tip sheet."
The Seer of MSNBC hath spoken: no matter how good the news might be now for President Bush, he will be in worse shape come the November elections.
That was Chris Matthews' reading of the entrails on this morning's Today show. Guest-hosting David Gregory interviewed him, and, sounding the same theme we saw over at this morning's Early Show, cast the controversy over the latest leak of an anti-terror program not as a threat to national security, but as "this attack on the New York Times."
Gregory teed up this softball for Matthews: "The question is, whether should we be taking their [the administration's] word for it, that these are legal programs? Do you think the administration, any administration, has earned the right . . . to protect that kind of secret?"
There could be an NBC intern out of work by lunch-time. Somebody failed to get the DNC/MSM talking points to Barry McCaffrey. A guest on this morning's Today show, the retired general obstinately refused to go along with the party line in reacting to the news that a drawdown of US troops in Iraq is in the works. Didn't Barry at least watch Carl Levin over the weekend? The Dem senator from Michigan had made it clear that this was all about election-year politics.
Co-host Campbell Brown picked up right where Levin left off.
Brown: "Based on your assessment of the situation on the ground, do you think this plan is realistic?"
McCaffrey: "Yeah, sure. . . Realistic assumptions will probably occur."
No-o-o-o-o! Brown took another tack: "Put 'realistic' aside and tell me whether you think it's a good idea, though."
When it comes to cutting and running, John Kerry, Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi take a back seat to no one. But what if - quelle horreur! - the terrorist insurgents in Iraq beat them to the white flag punch?
Amidst the news of the day, from plots to bomb the Sears Tower to more Dem disunity, Jim Miklaszewski let slip this little bombshell, coming from a press conference by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey:
"On the positive front, Casey revealed for the first time the Sunni insurgency has reached out to both the U.S. and Iraq to find some way to end their terrorist campaign."
Maybe it was just tough love, but NBC's "Today" gave the Democrats a rather rough going-over this morning. And cast in the role of flip-flopping heavy was none other than John Kerry. The subject matter was Democrat disunity over plans for Iraq, and co-host Campbell Brown set the tone by suggesting that the internal debate could be evidence of "a Democratic party at war with itself."
Norah O'Donnell began the segment she narrated by observing that "Republicans are working to exploit Democratic divisions in November elections." After noting that Kerry has a proposal to pull all troops out by 2007, she cut to a clip of Sen. Mitch McConnell [R-KY] on the floor of the Senate pointing out "the junior senator from Massachusetts has had four positions on Iraq."
In a chock-filled first half-hour of Today, the family of one the soldiers murdered in Iraq shared their grief and pride, Andrea Mitchell got it all wrong about conservative discontent, and White House spokesman Dan Bartlett declined to rise to Matt Lauer's bait.
Although the appropriateness of publicizing the grief of bereaved families is often debated, their dignity is a frequent source of inspiration. Here, the father of PFC Thomas Tucker of Oregon, reportedly tortured and murdered by the new al-Qaeda leader in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Zarqawi, spoke with simple eloquence:
"We don't understand the big political picture. We understand what has happened. Our son has died for the freedom of everybody in the United States. We are very proud of our son."
Two weeks certainly aren’t a large sampling, but since the much-heralded – and over-celebrated – departure of the perky Katie Couric, NBC’s “Today” show actually widened its average daily viewing margin over second-place rival ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
As reported by the Associated Press (hat tip to Drudge): “‘Today’ beat second-place ‘Good Morning America’ of ABC by an average of 1.3 million viewers in the two weeks following Couric's last show on May 31, according to Nielsen Media Research. The NBC show's margin of victory (5.85 million to 4.92 million) was tighter during Couric's last full week on the air.”
Yikes. And, generating advertising dollars without Couric hasn’t been a problem either: “NBC also says it has earned about $25 million more in ‘upfront’ advertising sales for ‘Today’ in the fall than it did last year at this time, when the morning show was facing a stiffer challenge from ABC.”
Double yikes. Finally, one of NBC’s top brass might have added a bit of a parting shot at Katie to drive the point home:
For a TV host, there's nothing much more difficult than interviewing a family member of someone who has been killed or seriously harmed. So when the uncle of one of the US soldiers kidnapped and killed in Iraq called for the offering of a massive ransom and a prisoner exchange, give Matt Lauer credit for having had the courage to challenge him.
Here's how it went down.
Lauer was interviewing Ken MacKenzie, a well-spoken, well-informed uncle to PFC Kristian Menchaca. Asked Lauer:
"A group linked to al-Qaeda on its website has claimed that they actually took Kristian and another soldier. What's your reaction to that?"
"My reaction is the United States government should have immediately notified these Shura Council mujahadeen that the United States government was offering a $100-million reward and offering to exchange the 2,500 mujahadeen detainees that Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq plans to release several weeks from now. I think the U.S. government was too slow to react to this, they should have had a plan in place. Because the U.S. government did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid for it with his life."
The three broadcast networks have focused growing attention on inflation recently – 42 stories since early May. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer declared on June 14 “Well, it is back, inflation, that is.” The following day, ABC’s Bill Ritter cautioned, “everything from mowing the lawn to joining a gym could cost you more money.”
Yet, when positive inflation news was announced just hours later by the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, ABC didn’t even bother reporting it on its evening news program. Meanwhile, the other two broadcast networks paid inflation relatively little notice compared to their other stories that night.
On June 15, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke told Chicago’s Economic Club that higher energy costs haven’t had a big impact on other prices, and there are even signs that such pressures may be waning. The stock market exploded on the announcement with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising by almost 200 points, or 1.83 percent – its best one day showing since April 2005.
Rather than welcome the news after focusing on the evils of inflation, the networks paid little attention. ABC’s “World News Tonight” didn’t even report Bernanke’s statement about inflation. This was particularly odd as “Good Morning America” just hours a few earlier did a rather lengthy segment on the issue.
In the past week, President Bush has visited Iraq, had his top political operative cleared of wrongdoing, and presided over the elimination of the terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. NBC’s Today show took note of this fact and the June 16 edition featured a segment on Bush’s upturn in fortunes. But if conservatives expected the media to be happy about Bush’s "good week," they were sadly mistaken. Today reporter Norah O’Donnell began her piece, which aired at 7:13AM EDT, by stating that the Bush administration hoped the current string of positive events would become more then "just a fleeting bit of good news." She also implied that the President’s trip was a political stunt:
"And the President may get the most mileage...literally and figuratively, out of his drop-in to Baghdad...with secrecy both necessary and adding dramatic effect."
Just days after substitute Today co-host Campbell Brown applied a little bit of weekday Tim Russert elbow grease to Howard Dean, asking about the Democratic split on Iraq, Brown's interview with James Carville this morning didn't even contain questions, just set-up statements.
First, MRC's Scott Whitlock reported, Brown asked a soft question on the segment's premise on whether Bush is on the mend: "So let me ask you both this question. And Michael you start. Are we going to look back at this week and say this is the week that President Bush got his mojo back?" Smerconish said yes, Bush was now the "comeback kid."
Then came Brown's completely supine non-question: "All right, James. You're laughing. Go ahead."
Yesterday Lee Cowan, of CBS News, may have exaggerated the size of the protests in Baghdad by people loyal to cleric Muqtada al Sadr, in response to President Bush’s surprise visit. But today, he made up for it. Cowan, reporting from Baghdad for "The Early Show" on CBS, was the only reporter on the 3 major network morning shows to quote from al Qaeda documents found after the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
While "Good Morning America" on ABC and "Today" on NBC gave only cursory mention of the documents, "The Early Show" led the program with the story. Co-host Julie Chen noted the significance of the documents and what they could mean when she introduced Cowan’s piece:
Has Katie Couric's departure had a salubrious effect on Matt Lauer? Freed his inner moderate? The jury's still out. And to be sure, in his interview of Bill O'Reilly this morning Lauer managed to take shots at Ann Coulter and the Iraq security situation. Still, when an MSM host suggests that releasing prisoners from Guantanamo could result, of all things, in an 'international Willie Horton,' it does make you sit up and take notice.
Meanwhile, BOR himself, fresh from his visit to Guantanamo, energetically made the case for the current system of detaining enemy combatants.
Lauer did start things out with a quick jab at the state of security, or lack thereof, in Iraq:
Our media today seem absolutely allergic to good news, especially when it comes to Iraq.
In the early morning of June 8, the story broke that American forces had killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, our most infamous terrorist enemy in Iraq. This was terrific news, a time for rejoicing in America. A man who viciously caused the death of thousands, and killed Americans like Nicholas Berg by personally sawing off their heads, would kill no more.
This should have been a time for national euphoria, and for most, it was. But the media’s hearts clearly weren’t in it. Within just a few minutes of the “Today” show announcement, a viewer could draw the clear sense that the poor-mouthing had begun. Matt Lauer began by noting the “timing” was certainly right for a Pentagon dragged down by allegations of a Marine massacre at Haditha. NBC invited Sen. Joe Biden to describe how President Bush has been “basically crippled at home and abroad because of the incompetence of the way his administration has operated at home and abroad.” We’re going to discuss Bush incompetence – minutes after we learn Zarqawi was located and eliminated?
What's gotten into Campbell Brown? I'd had her pegged as a conventional MSM liberal, but in recent times, she has manifested a refreshing streak of independence that was very much on display in her interview of Howard Dean on this morning's Today show.
Things came to a head over the Dems' vague and conflicting positions over Iraq.
Began Brown: "Let me ask you about Iraq. I want to ask a straightforward question. What is the Democrats' position on Iraq? What solution do Democrats have?"
Dean: "We believe that the President is wrong to say this will be left to the next president. That's not the right approach. Secondly, we believe there needs to be a transition, that the Iraqis need to take over and our troops need to come home and be redeployed to other parts of the world to fight terrorism. The war on terror has nothing to do with the war with Iraq, or at least it didn't until the president got us in there. We believe in transition. This is now the responsibility of the Iraqis. And we believe that this cannot be left to the next administration. It needs to be dealt with now."
Hit back Brown: "But 'dealt with now', that's not that different from President Bush's position."
The networks have been eager over the last few weeks to highlight every new charge or claim related to the alleged massacre by U.S. Marines of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq last November (a new study from the MRC counted 99 stories or interviews about it over just three weeks on the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows), but when a front page Washington Post article on Sunday recounted Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich's contention that he and his squad followed the rules of engagement and were justified in their actions, the networks lost interest. NBC gave it a few seconds on Sunday's Today and a fuller story on Sunday's Nightly News, but ABC and CBS ignored it on their Sunday morning shows (GMA and Sunday Morning) while ABC's World News Tonight gave it a mere 20 seconds before a full story on suicides at Guantanamo and the CBS Evening News skipped it completely. On Monday, despite interview segments and stories on Iraq, the broadcast network morning shows ignored Wuterich's version, though ABC and NBC made time for full Guantanamo pieces. Amazingly, ABC's Charles Gibson didn't raise it with Congressman John Murtha, the lead accuser who appeared on GMA. The Monday evening shows also avoided the topic. (Detailed rundown and contrasts follow.)
Here's a strategy for pro-life activists: start talking up the fact that humans share 90% [or whatever the number is] of their DNA with seals. It might win you more sympathy from the MSM. For while the liberal media love to celebrate 'a woman's right to choose', they go all weepy at the prospect of baby seals biting the dust, er, ice.
The Today show was at it again this morning with a segment on the baby seal harvest in Canada, complete with the predictable footage of those cuddly baby seals at the mercy of heartless hunters. 'Today' even warned us that "what you are about to see may be disturbing to some people."
What have the Dems and their MSM echo-chamber been clamoring for, nay, demanding, when it comes to Iraq? Why, a troop withdrawal, of course. Yet there was Matt Lauer on this morning's Today, fretting that President Bush might . . . withdraw troops.
Lauer's lament came in the course of his interview of former General Barry McCaffrey, looking ahead to the Iraq summit that Pres. Bush is holding at Camp David beginning today with his top national security advisers.
" Do you worry about a political side of this, that the administration may pull a substantial number troops out of Iraq just prior to November's mid-term elections simply to sway public opinion?"
I'm on a quick strike down to NYC today to attend a talk radio convention.
And speaking of quick strikes, Matt Lauer launched one at Karen Hughes on this morning's 'Today.' Hughes, who serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, was on to discuss US relations in the Arab world in the, ahem, wake of the killing of Zarqawi.
At the end of the interview, Lauer hit Hughes with this 21/2-month old quote from Donald Rumsfeld:
"If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a D or a D-plus as a country as to how well we’re doing in the battle of ideas that’s taking place in the world today. And I’m not going to suggest that it’s easy, but we have not found the formula as a country."
At 7:12 this morning, NBC's Today was already turning the Zarqawi victory into a Republican-Democrat spitting match, inviting on Senator Joe Biden (Democrat from Television, I mean, Delaware). When co-host Ann Curry asked: "Do you think, talking about politics for just a moment, that the President might be able now to use this to gain momentum, to improve the chances of, of improving his approval ratings and helping in the midterm elections coming up this November?" Biden said yes, because Bush has been "crippled" by "incompetence" at home and abroad:
Well, I hope it does improve his ratings. Look, I’m a Democrat. We get one president at a time. This election in November is not going to be for president of the United States, and he has been basically crippled at home and abroad because ofthe incompetence of the way his administration has operated at home and abroad, and that’s not good for the country. He fails, America ends up getting hurt. And so, I hope it does improve his standing. I hope it does embolden him then to take bolder moves in terms of changing policy in Iraq. He’s made some significant changes in Iran. That’s helpful. But we have a long way to go. His low ratings and his inability to rally any support is a very difficult position for the United States internationally.
How on Earth would the networks work in the alleged Marine massacre at Haditha today? Oh, don't worry. Matt Lauer was on that six minutes into the show, MRC's Geoff Dickens reports. Oh, the timing was very political, we at NBC would like to underline:
Matt Lauer: "And Mik, let me just talk about the timing of this. The, the U.S. military has been rocked over the last couple of weeks by headlines suggesting an alleged massacre in Haditha. So clearly this comes at a very important time for the Pentagon."
Early AP dispatches from the press conference Nouri al-Maliki held this morning to announce the death of Zarqawi said these words were "drawing loud applause from reporters" there.
That didn't sound typical, and NBC's Richard Engel was more precise on Today this morning: "Spontaneous joy from Iraqi reporters gathered in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone." American reporters don't cheer American victories. They suggest this won't mean much in the long run.
NBC's Special Report around the president's remarks included analysis from Tim Russert -- in reality and in tone, the Democratic response. Russert threw several pitchers of cold water on the good news, saying people should remember the euphoria after capturing Saddam Hussein, and things didn't change much.
For weeks, the MSM has been billing as a bellwether the congressional by-election in California to replace convicted felon Randy 'Duke' Cunningham. As per the conventional wisdom, if the Democrats managed to take the seat in what is normally a GOP-stronghold, it would be seen as a harbinger of horrible things to come for the Republican congressional majority.
Well, the election was held yesterday, and - whoops! - the Republican, Brian Bilbray, won. So how did Today spin it? Why, silence was suddenly golden. At least as of the crucial first half-hour, there was time for coverage of dust in the Arizonan desert, but not a word of the Bilbray victory. Insert your imagine-if-the-Dem-had-won comment here.
Coming on long after Ann Coulter presumably left the Today show set Kathy Griffin couldn't resist taking a shot at the conservative author. Griffin cracked Al Roker up when she called Coulter a "nut-ball" and asked Al: "Doesn't she just make stuff up?"
Kathy Griffin: "I like to make fun of everybody. I think nobody is sacred, everybody can be ridiculous. And I love making fun of just all of celebrity culture."
Al Roker: "So you basically have gone after, you, you've made Steven Spielberg angry, now you're going after Oprah."
Griffin: "I go, although I'd like to go after Ann Coulter. I saw that nut-ball on the show earlier."
Matt Lauer has two different sets of standards for politically provocative authors. If you are on the left he laughs with you, if you are on the right he slams you. On this morning’s Today show Ann Coulter’s statements drew outrage from Matt but last October when Al Franken suggested Karl Rove and Lewis Libby be executed for treason Matt and the Today show crew laughed. Lauer’s interview with Coulter got particularly testy when he read excerpts from Coulter’s new book and demanded she defend them. Below are the most explosive portion of this morning’s Coulter v. Lauer showdown
While considerable attention focuses on Ann Coulter's more superficial charms, from a conservative perspective Ann's real beauty is her absolute refusal to buy into liberal logic, no matter how pervasive. That independence of mind was on display this morning during her 'Today' interview with Matt Lauer. Ann was on to tout her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, released today on . . . 6/6/6 - sign of the devil and all that. [See today's open thread.]
The first example came in the context of President Bush's current push for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit gay marriage. The liberal mantra on his initiative, as exemplified by Ann Curry's performance on yesterday's Today, is that this is a cynical political ploy and a waste of time when there are myriad 'real' issues out there to be addressed.