CBS' Early Show Observes 9/11 in Full-Throated Politics Mode

Jim Axelrod I wrote, earlier today, about how The Early Show began the broadcast this morning by politicizing 9/11. I had stopped watching after the Axelrod segment to write about it, and just recently got back to it. I was almost stunned by how right my headline had been. I just didn't know the half of it. The first hour of the show was filled with politics, the vast majority of it negative towards the Bush administration and the rest just inappropriate. First, we had the Axelrod piece, as referenced earlier.

Axelrod: The President's aides have made it clear this is no time for politics, although his very presence here is a reminder of the lost popularity for Mr. Bush in the past five years....In the days and weeks after the President climbed that rubble pile at Ground Zero and promised revenge, the President had an 89% approval rating. Five years later that number is 36%. Later today the President will head from here in Manhattan to Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At 11:45 A.M., Mr. Bush will participate in a ceremony in Shanksville. He will then fly to Washington to lay a wreath at the Pentagon. At 9:00 tonight the President will address the nation in what we're told will be a non-political speech.

Hannah Storm

This was followed by Hannah Storm, reminding everyone that the Bush administration has not yet captured Osama Bin Laden.

Hannah Storm: On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary a videotape came out showing Osama Bin Laden and his followers planning the 9/11 attacks, one more reminder that five years later Osama Bin Laden is still out there.

Next, she spoke with Secretary of State Rice. And wanted to know when the Bush administration would start treating terrorism the way the Clinton administration did. And pointing the finger of blame. And challenging the Bush administration's overall strategy.

Hannah Storm: When we go to trial? When will this be criminalized?

Hannah Storm: There's still talk about who has responsibility for 9/11. There is this ABC movie, that has stirred controvery by saying that the Clinton administration had a chance to get Osama Bin Laden and didn't. Others have blamed the Bush administration for not recognizing the terror threat. Who is to blame?

(Notice there the assumption that it's controversial to say that the Clinton administration had the opportunity to get Bin Laden, and didn't. The latter is, of course, inarguable. The evidence is overwhelming that the former is, as well. Hannah apparently thinks that it's controversial to say 1+1=2.)

Hannah Storm: I want to ask you about this spreading of democracy and changing the Middle East and combating this ideology of hatred. We have seen terrorist organizations flourish in democratic nations in the Middle East and also seen them flourish in western Europe. So is that really the answer for terror?

Rene Syler

Rene Syler interviewed Rudy Giuliani. She tried to get him to criticize the Bush administration, by playing a segment of a Katie Couric interview with Christie Todd Whitman. And she tried to get him to discuss his political aspirations.

Katie Couric; Did your people do enough to call the people who were overseeing the site, i.e, the city officials that said we have to protect these people?

Rene Syler: If I could ask you about your political aspirations. You remain a presidential prospect for 2008, will you run for President?

5 years, almost to the hour, after the attacks that changed the world, she's asking him whether he's running for President. Completely inappropriate, and he pointed that out. Harry Smith

Finally, we went to Harry Smith, who spoke about ... politics. With Hilary Clinton. Who had nothing but criticism of the Bush administration, with basically no push-back from Smith. It is absolutely inconceivable that a Republican Senator could have appeared on national television this morning and made the types of comments about the Clinton administration that Senator Clinton made about the Bush administration. There would have been furious condemnation from the press. With Senator Clinton, it's basically a question of "how else would you like to criticize the President?"

Harry Smith: Right after 9/11 party politics was not part of the War on Terror but now Democrats say the Bush administration has not done enough to protect Americans. Republicans say no attacks in America is proof that the War on Terror is working. Senator Clinton joins us this morning. One of the questions we've been asking for the last week, are we safe, are we safer and the question I want to ask this morning -- is the world any less dangerous than it was five years ago?

Hilary Clinton: Well we are safer, we are not safe enough and the world is dangerous. The world has always been dangerous, but now we have a lot of copycats, jihadist terrorists. We have a lot of spreading of this ideology. So we need to be safer and smarter. We have to have a strong but effective response.

Harry Smith: Has the country done enough, with the fighting in Afghanistan has re-escalated. The Taliban has reconstituted itself and numbers even greater than before, how can it be five years later?

Hilary Clinton: We took our eye off the ball. We diverted resources and attention to Iraq and we didn't finish the job. That, to me, is one of the great missed opportunities. I don't understand why that happened but it did. So now we are going to have to get more NATO troops, more American support to go in and support the government of Afghanistan, to try to redo what we should have done right the first time.

Harry Smith: You were among those who advocated going to war in Iraq. We are in Iraq now, more than 2,500 Americans have died there, there is still an unbelievable lethal situation on the ground day-to-day for Iraqi civilians. The President says this is the centerpiece in the War on Terror do you believe that is true?

Hilary Clinton: I did not advocate that. I voted to give the President authority to have the United States congress behind him when he went to the U.N. To put inspectors back in to figure out what Saddam Hussein had. That would not have been the choice, in my opinion, that we should have pursued at that time. But I thought it was reasonable to give him that authority. Nevertheless, it is a big problem now. It is a source of terrorists and getting better tactics, learning how to be suicide bombers.

Harry Smith: Where there were no terrorists before, it's full of terrorists now?

Hilary Clinton: It's full of people learning and applying tactics in terrorism that have been both imported from Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere, and now can be exported.

Harry Smith: Very quickly, there's a tug of war, a war of words, between Christie Todd Whitman and former Mayor Giuliani about the dangerous level of the air here at ground zero. Do you remember that time? And who is, in the end, responsible for people not wearing respirators?

Hilary Clinton: I remember it well. I was the first person within days who said this air is not safe and we have to protect the people working on the pile. The federal government basically lied. They said the air was safe to breathe. They tried to dismiss the concerns that many of us had and people are suffering now. All levels of government should have done more. We should have done more to be honest with people about what they were encountering and done more to make sure that the men and women on that pile day in and day out had appropriate equipment to protect themselves.

Harry Smith: Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

All in all, a truly repulsive performance across-the-board this morning from CBS. The producers of The Early Show should be ashamed of themselves. They're not, I'm sure. But they should be...

Highlights from CBS' in-kind contribution to the DNC can be seen here. It runs just over 6 minutes, and includes segments from Mr. Axelrod's news story, highlights of Ms. Storm's questions to Secretary Rice and Ms. Syler's questions for Mayor Giuliani, and the entirety of Mr. Smith's interview with Senator Clinton.