All three broadcast network evening newscasts on Thursday night put the 2,500 deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq mark ahead of the Iraqi government’s release of an al-Qaeda memo which admitted they are losing as it characterized their situation in Iraq as “bleak” and conceded that “time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance.” The CBS Evening News, however, at least incorporated both developments in their lead story run before the news that Bill Gates plans to step down from Microsoft in two years, though CBS anchor Bob Schieffer managed to slip in a plug for the upcoming Gates story as he opened: "We have two big stories tonight; Bill Gates, whose inventions changed the way we lived, is giving up day-to-day operations at Microsoft.” Schieffer then jumped to his lead: “There was also a grim milestone today. U.S. military deaths in Iraq now total 2,500.” Both ABC and NBC led with Gates.
CBS’s Lee Cowan painted the document, released by Iraq’s National Security Advisor, as genuine. He relayed how it “offered a pointed admission, that al-Qaeda in Iraq is, quote, 'in a crisis.' It went on to lament that America was having success in training Iraq's new security forces...” ABC and NBC, however, treated the memo as suspect. ABC’s Brian Ross: “The documents, if they are authentic, suggest that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working extremely well, in almost every respect. But there are questions being raised about authenticity." NBC’s Richard Engel squeezed in a brief mention of the memo: "It would be a major coup, a terror blueprint uncovered. But tonight some U.S. officials are skeptical of its authenticity and origin." (Transcripts follow.)
ABC’s World News Tonight. Charlie Gibson’s second tease item, after Gates:
"Inside the insurgency: Documents purportedly from insurgents speak of their failures and coalition successes. Are the documents genuine?"
World News Tonight led with Bill Gates followed by excerpts from an old interview of Gates by George Stephanopoulos, a brief note about the stock market rally and then the “sad milestone” of 2,500 killed in Iraq and how the House and Senate observed a moment of silence and the House then debated a resolution on the war on terror, with a series of soundbites from both sides, and then after Gibson noted the identification of al-Qaeda’a new leader in Iraq, Brian Ross got to outline the memo.
Gibson on the 2,500 deaths:
"There is a sad milestone to be noted in the Iraq war. The Pentagon announced today that 2,500 American servicemen and women have now died in Iraq. On Capitol Hill, both the House and the Senate stood and observed a moment of silence. The House observed its moment of silence and then began a passionate debate -- a debate that takes place every day, at dinner tables, barbershops, wherever Americans gather: Whether the war in Iraq was worth starting. And whether it is worth continuing. It's a debate that will shape this year's congressional elections."
Gibson’s intro to Ross:
"The new Iraqi government released some documents that were seized recently, we're not sure when, which purport to set out insurgent strategy in Iraq. The documents indicate insurgents feel the government may be gaining the upper hand. ABC's chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, joins us."
Ross: "That's right, Charlie. The documents, if they are authentic, suggest that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working extremely well, in almost every respect. But there are questions being raised about authenticity. Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al Rubaie, produced the document this morning in Baghdad, saying it was found on a computer disc in Zarqawi's pants."
Rubaie, in Baghdad: "We have managed to confiscate a very important documents."
Ross, with quoted phrases on screen: "Reporters were provided with a three-page English translation. The document describes what it calls, ‘the current bleak situation.' And says, ‘time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance.'"
Bruce Hoffman, terrorism analyst, Rand Corporation: "Their assessment is that they are doing remarkably poorly and that we're doing far better than many people assume the United States and the Iraqi government is doing."
Ross: "The document cites the improved Iraqi National Guard, massive arrest operations, and a crackdown on financial contributions as reasons for the crisis. And the document suggests the answer is, ‘to entangle the American forces into another war,' with Iran by blaming Iran for certain attacks."
Hoffman: "In essence, their strategy is to create another Iraq, to enmesh the United Sates in another struggle in another conflict that will divert our attention, that will divert our military resources, and they hope will give them the breathing space, fundamentally, to rebuild and regroup, so they can carry on the struggle."
Ross: "Iraqi officials said there was no question of the document's authenticity."
Rubaie: "Well, if I find something in your pocket, then that's authentic, isn't it?"
Ross: "But U.S. officials said the document was not, in fact, found on or near Zarqawi's body, but in a raid three weeks earlier on other targets."
Major General William Caldwell, U.S. military spokesman: "As far as an analysis of it, we have not done any yet."
Ross: "And the English translation was devoid of the usual, elaborate phrasing and religious references typical of previous al Qaeda and Zarqawi communications."
Alexis Debat, former French Defense Ministry official: "This letter clearly stands out in its language from all the letters that we know Zarqawi has written or has received."
Ross: "The document is unsigned. But whoever wrote it, Charlie, left a clear impression the U.S. is making great progress in Iraq."
CBS Evening News. Lee Cowan’s up front tease:
"On the day the number of U.S. war dead hit 2,500, a new face of terror in Iraq is unveiled. I'm Lee Cowan with the successor to Zarqawi."
Anchor Bob Schieffer opened the June 15 newscast, as transcribed by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:
"Good evening. We have two big stories tonight; Bill Gates, whose inventions changed the way we lived, is giving up day-to-day operations at Microsoft. We'll get the details on that story in just a minute, but there was also a grim milestone today. U.S. military deaths in Iraq now total 2,500. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow called it a 'sad benchmark.' That news came as American commanders said they now believe that al-Qaeda is also suffering heavy losses in Iraq, and they now believe they know who has replaced their leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed a week ago. Lee Cowan with more on that."
Cowan, from Iraq: "For the first time, U.S. military commanders revealed the face of the man they believe is the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a wide-eyed Egyptian named Abu Ayyub al-Masri, with a resume of violence that is decades long."
Major General William Caldwell, Multinational Forces in Iraq: "This is a terrorist organization. This is a terrorist person who has done nothing but espouse, you know, killing as a way of life in order to change the governments and change people's beliefs and uses intimidation and kidnaping and everything else."
Cowan: "But Iraq's national security advisor says whoever al-Qaeda's new leader is, his followers appear to be in trouble."
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraqi National Security Advisor: "We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Cowan: "He proudly pointed to a document translated into English today that he says was seized from a computer in an al-Qaeda hideout. It not only named names and possible locations of insurgents, who today mounted more deadly attacks in and around the capital, but it also offered a pointed admission, that al-Qaeda in Iraq is, quote, 'in a crisis.' It went on to lament that America was having success in training Iraq's new security forces, which in turn have been successful in tightening the insurgents' financing and confiscating its ammo and weapons. But the document also offered a clear blueprint for a solution -- in short, inflame the situation between America and Iran to embroil America in another war against yet another enemy."
Al-Rubaie: "It will show how their central strategy is to divide and destroy and rule, and that's their mission in this country."
Cowan: "Iraq's Prime Minister, though, did indicate that he would be willing to offer a limited amnesty program for some of those insurgents. But late tonight, especially after the Pentagon announced that the official U.S. military death toll here in Iraq had topped 2500, both U.S. and Iraqi officials were quick to insist that amnesty would not be extended to anyone found guilty of killing either U.S. troops or Iraqi civilians."
Schieffer: "Well, the thing landed like a bomb on Capitol Hill. They've got no support there, as you might imagine, Lee. But does this mean there's going to be no amnesty at all now?"
Cowan: "No, not at all. I mean, this is all about reconciliation. What this government is really looking for are the people who object to certain things in this government but just haven't expressed that in a violent way. Perhaps they allowed an insurgent to stay at their home or they stored some weapons for some insurgents, things like that. Those are the people that they're looking for to try and bring back into this political process so that they don't extend their disapproval in violent ways."
NBC Nightly News. Fill-in anchor Campbell Brown first teased her lead Gates/Microsoft story and then she previewed:
"2,500 dead, a grim new number for American lives lost in Iraq, while on Capitol Hill, a bitter debate over the U.S. mission."
Following the lead Gates story, Brown moved on to how Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said high energy costs are not likely to go down soon, and then Brown got to the 2,500 deaths followed by three stories on Iraq, starting with Richard Engel in Baghdad who squeezed in a brief mention, at the end of his story about ongoing violence and the revelation of a new al-Qaeda leader, about the memo:
"To prevent a strong leader from emerging, the Iraqi government today tried to demoralize al Qaeda. The government released a document it claims was found at an al Qaeda safe house."
Mouwafak al-Rubaie, Iraqi National Security Advisor: "This is the beginning of the end of al Qaeda in Iraq."
Engel concluded: "The purported al-Qaeda document complains about U.S. and Iraqi successes in killing their leaders and cutting off finances. It suggests trying to bog down American troops by triggering an American war with Iran. It would be a major coup, a terror blueprint uncovered. But tonight some U.S. officials are skeptical of its authenticity and origin."