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ABC Poll Finds Most Say National Guard "Not a Legitimate Issue" --2/13/2004


1. ABC Poll Finds Most Say National Guard "Not a Legitimate Issue"
President Bush has had a pretty bad few weeks, as reflected in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll cited by Peter Jennings on Thursday's World News Tonight, including a new low approval rating and view of his honesty, how most don't think Iraq worth it, most believe the Bush team exaggerated WMD evidence and that John Kerry would beat Bush. But, Jennings didn't tell viewers how, as recounted on the ABC News.com Web site, "most also continue to say the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States." Jennings highlighted the poll numbers just before another story on Bush's National Guard record, a topic the poll determined most, by two-to-one, "say is not a legitimate issue in the election campaign." That was a finding Jennings did not mention. Nor did he note how many more "say it is legitimate to look into questions about Kerry's fund raising as a U.S. Senator."

2. CBS Devotes Story to How Bush Agents Sought to "Purge" Records
CBS on Thursday night gave a clause in a sentence, to how the White House released records of a dental exam which proved George W. Bush was on an Alabama base in 1973, before John Roberts devoted nearly an entire story to how "in a six-year-old letter to Texas lawmakers obtained by CBS News, and in the new book, Bush's War for Reelection, former Guard officer Bill Burkett claims that in 1997, Guard commanders purged Mr. Bush's records to 'make sure nothing will embarrass the Governor during his re-election campaign or if he runs for President.'" Roberts failed to note that the author is a left-wing Bush-basher whose book sets out to prove the illegitimacy of the Bush presidency and Iraq war.

3. CNN Gives Hour to Bush, In '92 Ignored Clinton's Draft Scandal
On Thursday night, CNN dedicated the entire hour of its 8pm EST Paula Zahn Now to "2 Men, 2 Choices," a title which appeared beneath old black and white photos of John Kerry and George Bush in military uniforms. But in 1992, well more than a week after news broke about Bill Clinton's underhanded efforts to avoid the draft by misleading the chief of his local draft board, CNN aired a profile of Clinton during a prime time special on the candidates, yet failed to mention his draft avoidance.

4. Time's Joe Klein: Bush Getting What He Deserves on Guard Issue
When it comes to the baseless and now completely disproved allegation by Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe that President Bush was "AWOL" during a period of his National Guard service in Alabama, Time columnist and CNN contributor Joe Klein is happy that Bush is on the receiving end of a sleazy campaign stunt. "It's kind of fun to watch Republicans respond to the kind of politics that they've been practicing for the last 20 years, especially the Bush family in 1988," he rationalized on CNN's Paula Zahn Now on Wednesday night.

5. Matthews Notes Clinton's Draft Avoidance Never "Revisited"
MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday night wondered aloud why Bush's National Guard service is such an issue after three years of his presidency when Bill Clinton's avoidance of any Vietnam-era service "never got revisited again after that first campaign, despite the fact that he wrote the letter admitting he got help in dodging the draft, despite the fact that everybody knew he lied, basically, to Colonel Holmes." NBC's David Gregory defended the media's interest in Bush's record.

6. Lauer in Russia: "For Many, Life Worse Than in Soviet Times"
The Today show's "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" sweeps month ratings gimmick brought Lauer to Moscow's Red Square on Thursday where he repeatedly pressed Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to trash the Bush administration's foreign policy. Lauer asked: "Do you think the credibility of the United States and this particular administration has been damaged internationally in this last year?" Not all have succeeded in Russia's semi-free enterprise economy, but all have more personal, political and religious freedom, yet Lauer suggested many were better off under communism as he lamented: "Russia's rush to capitalism left the vast majority scrambling to survive. For many, life is worse than it was in Soviet times."


ABC Poll Finds Most Say National Guard
"Not a Legitimate Issue"

ABC's Peter Jennings President Bush has had a pretty bad few weeks, as reflected in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll cited by Peter Jennings on Thursday's World News Tonight, including a new low approval rating and view of his honesty, that "fewer than half of Americans say the war with Iraq was worth fighting," that most "believe the administration intentionally exaggerated evidence that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction" and that John Kerry would beat Bush in a head-to-head match up.

But, Jennings didn't tell viewers how, as recounted on the ABC News.com Web site, "two-thirds think the administration honestly believed Iraq did possess" WMD and "most also continue to say the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States."

Jennings highlighted the poll numbers just before another story on Bush's National Guard record, a topic the poll determined most, by two-to-one, "say is not a legitimate issue in the election campaign." That was a finding Jennings did not mention. Nor did he note how many more "say it is legitimate to look into questions about Kerry's fund raising as a U.S. Senator."

Jennings announced on the February 12 World News Tonight: "There is a new ABC News/Washington Post poll today about Iraq, the economy and President Bush. And the President, we find, is at a low point in public approval. His popularity depressed by questions about the war, economic frustration, and public interest in his leading Democratic rival.
"Mr. Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to 50 percent. His rating for honesty and trustworthiness is at a new low [52 percent]. For the first time, fewer than half of Americans say the war with Iraq was worth fighting [48 percent]. Most Americans believe the administration intentionally exaggerated evidence that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction -- 21 percent think the administration outright lied. 57 percent, in this poll, disapprove of Mr. Bush's performance creating jobs. And John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, leads him in a head-to-head match -- 51-43 percent -- which doesn't mean a whole lot right now given that the election is 10 months away, and Mr. Kerry's support is noticeably softer.
"Context here is critical. These results come at the height of the Democratic primary season after intense and positive coverage for Kerry, and they do follow a slump for Mr. Bush extending from his State of the Union Address through his admission that Iraq might not have had weapons of mass destruction after all."

Online, the headline over a piece by ABC's polling chief, Gary Langer, reflected Jennings' theme, "A New Low: Bush Job Approval Dogged By WMD Questions, Economy and John Kerry." But Langer also related some strengths Bush still retains and how more are interested in Kerry's fundraising than in Bush's National Guard record:
"While this poll underscores Bush's vulnerabilities, he does retain his core strengths -- broad approval for handling the war on terrorism and an image as a strong leader. And while most Americans believe his administration intentionally exaggerated evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destructions, far fewer (21 percent) think it outright lied. Indeed, two-thirds think the administration honestly believed Iraq did possess these weapons. Most also continue to say the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.
"On another front, questions about Bush's National Guard duty during the Vietnam War lack traction: Americans by more than 2-to-1 -- 66 percent to 30 percent -- say it's not a legitimate issue in the election campaign. More, by contrast, say it is legitimate to look into questions about Kerry's fund raising as a U.S. senator (a 42 percent to 46 percent split). And as noted, Bush's support is firmer than the less well-known Kerry's: 83 percent of Bush's backers support him strongly, compared with 59 percent of Kerry's."

For Langer's full rundown: abcnews.go.com

CBS Devotes Story to How Bush Agents
Sought to "Purge" Records

CBS on Thursday night gave a clause in a sentence, to how the White House released records of a dental exam which proved George W. Bush was on an Alabama base in 1973, before John Roberts devoted nearly an entire story to how "in a six-year-old letter to Texas lawmakers obtained by CBS News, and in the new book, Bush's War for Reelection, former Guard officer Bill Burkett claims that in 1997, Guard commanders purged Mr. Bush's records to 'make sure nothing will embarrass the Governor during his re-election campaign or if he runs for President.'"

Roberts failed to note that the author is a left-wing Bush-basher whose book sets out to prove the illegitimacy of the Iraq war.

Later in the story Roberts suggested the dental record was a fraud as he noted how "officials hoped the release of Mr. Bush's dental records would end the matter," but he asserted, "the dentist who treated him has no specific recollection of seeing the future President."

ABC's Terry Moran at least pointed out how the dental and payroll records disprove Terry McAuliffe's charge: "That puts Mr. Bush in Alabama on duty, and seems to disprove the charge by Democratic Party leader Terry McAuliffe and others that the President was AWOL at that time."

NBC Nightly News held itself to this short item read by anchor Brian Williams: "More tonight on the President's National Guard service records. The White House has a released a copy of the dental exam from January 1973 that they say confirms President Bush served at an Alabama air base. The dentist tells NBC News he doesn't remember treating Bush, though he recognizes his own signature on the dental form."

Now a full rundown of the February 12 CBS and ABC stories:

Dan Rather set up the CBS Evening News piece, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "There was more election year squabbling today over President Bush's National Guard service record during the Vietnam War. The President's supporters and his critics pressed their cases. CBS's chief White House correspondent, John Roberts, sorts out the latest claims and evidence."

Roberts began: "The White House continued the damage control surrounding the President's military service, releasing dental records officials say prove he was at a National Guard air base in Alabama in January of 1973. But the story took yet another twist today. In a six-year-old letter to Texas lawmakers obtained by CBS News, and in the new book, Bush's War for Reelection, former Guard officer Bill Burkett claims that in 1997, Guard commanders purged Mr. Bush's records to 'make sure nothing will embarrass the Governor during his re-election campaign or if he runs for President.'"
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, Texas National Guard: "I was troubled sufficiently within my own conscience that there was possibly an effort here to cast an image that was better maybe than the individual's record."
Roberts: "Burkett says he overheard a speaker phone conversation in which Mr. Bush's then-Chief-of-Staff Joe Allbaugh gave the order to scrub the records and later found some in the trash. The White House dismissed the claim, saying Burkett has no evidence to back them up. Allbaugh today called the charges 'hogwash.'"
Joseph Allbaugh, former FEMA Director: "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. I don't know who he is, what he heard, or what he thought he heard. Hearsay as far as I'm concerned. I never said what he said."
Roberts: "Squashing this controversy is critical for a White House that has put enormous effort into building a strong image of a wartime President. Officials hoped the release of Mr. Bush's dental records would end the matter, but the dentist who treated him has no specific recollection of seeing the future President, saying at that time he would have been just another pilot. And two former guardsmen at the Alabama base the President was to report to told a Memphis newspaper they didn't see him either despite the fact that the base was all abuzz about a politically connected guardsman coming in and that they were keeping an eye out for him."

Roberts ignored the political agenda of James Moore, an agenda made clear by reading Amazon.com's description of his soon-to-be-released screed, Bush's War For Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People. Last year Moore co-authored a book about how Karl Rove is really Bush's "brain." An excerpt from Amazon.com's description of his upcoming book:

....Drawing on high-level sources inside the administration and the military, Moore weaves together a multifaceted narrative that probes the political underpinnings of the administration's push for an Iraq war, exposes efforts during the war (and after) to manipulate perceptions of U.S. military success, and contrasts it all to the ultimate price paid by soldiers duped into believing they were fighting for a just cause, not for political gain....

He examines the administration's unprecedented efforts to control and withhold information, including in-depth discussions with Joseph C. Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative allegedly exposed by Karl Rove. Moore also gives us an uncensored view of combat in Iraq, reporting opinions of a senior Air Force source and troops on the ground; he shows how the war's first American casualty actually died, and reveals what really happened to Jessica Lynch's unit....

James Moore (Austin, T-X) is an Emmy Award-winning television news correspondent with more than a quarter century of journalistic experience. He has covered every presidential campaign since 1976, and his reports have appeared on CNN, NBC, and CBS. He is the coauthor of the 2003 New York Times bestseller Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (0-471-47140-2).

END of Excerpt

That's all online at: www.amazon.com

Over on ABC's World News Tonight on Thursday night, Peter Jennings observed: "Well, as you may have sensed, the Democrats have been trying to put the President on the defensive over how he fulfilled his National Guard duty 30 years ago. The issue has been raised throughout the President's political career. Today the White House has released a document that has never been made public before. Here's ABC's Terry Moran."

Moran explained: "The President in Pennsylvania today did not mention the controversy over his military record, but administration officials were busy pressing his case. One new document, released by the White House last night, shows Lieutenant George W. Bush was in Alabama having a dental exam on January 6, 1973, at Dannelly Air National Guard Base. Payroll records also show Mr. Bush was paid for Guard service that day. That puts Mr. Bush in Alabama on duty, and seems to disprove the charge by Democratic Party leader Terry McAuliffe and others that the President was AWOL at that time."
Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) at a House hearing on Wednesday: "We have a President who may have been AWOL-"
Moran: "The charges against the President have hit a nerve in the administration as Secretary of State Powell showed yesterday, responding to Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown's remarks on the matter."
Colin Powell: "Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the President because you don't know what you're talking about. Second, let me get to the points that you were raising."
Brown: "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Secretary."
Powell: "You made reference to the President."
Brown: "I said he may have been AWOL."
Powell: "Mr. Brown, let's not, let's not go there. You know, let's just not go there."
Moran concluded by giving Bush the benefit of the doubt: "Finally today, in an effort to show that Mr. Bush has nothing to hide, the Press Secretary revealed the then-Lieutenant Bush's answers on his National Guard application form to a question about his arrest record. The answers had been blacked out by the Guard. The then-21-year-old admitted a misdemeanor charge stemming from a fraternity prank at Yale, two speeding tickets, and two minor traffic incidents."

CNN Gives Hour to Bush, In '92 Ignored
Clinton's Draft Scandal

On Thursday night, CNN dedicated the entire hour of its 8pm EST Paula Zahn Now to "2 Men, 2 Choices," a title which appeared beneath old black and white photos of John Kerry and George Bush in military uniforms. But in 1992, well more than a week after news broke about Bill Clinton's underhanded efforts to avoid the draft by misleading the chief of his local draft board, CNN aired a profile of Clinton during a prime time special on the candidates, yet failed to mention his draft avoidance.

The MRC's Tim Graham reminded me of this paragraph from the March 1992 MediaWatch, a monthly newsletter the MRC published in the pre-CyberAlert era: "On February 15, CNN replaced its 10-11 PM (ET) World News with a special titled The Battle to Lead. Political reporter (and former Morris Udall aide) Ken Bode narrated an eight-minute profile of Clinton. Though Bode reviewed Clinton's personal history, he completely omitted the draft scandal."

CNN, of course, isn't giving Bush such a pass.

Zahn's hour featured a piece by Bruce Morton in which, Zahn promised, he "lays out the facts." Morton didn't mention Kerry's impugning Vietnam vets as murderers of civilians but reminded viewers how Kerry had asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Next, Zahn brought aboard Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who had written a Thursday story headlined: "Bush's loss of flying status should have spurred probe." See: www.boston.com

She balanced him with a session with Republican Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana, a Gulf War vet, who defended Bush, followed by a taped piece from Jamie McIntyre on how during the Vietnam era the National Guard was barely trained and rarely used, but now is well-trained and often deployed. McIntyre pointed out how in a book Colin Powell had written that he was "angry" about how the well-connected used National Guard and reserves to avoid the Vietnam war.

Then she did a segment with anti-Bush book author James Moore and retired Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, the man who claims Joe Allbaugh wanted Bush's National Guard records "cleansed." Like CBS's John Roberts, she failed to note Moore's left-wing political agenda. (For proof, see item #2 above.)

Viewers then heard from former Deputy Secretary of the Army Van Hipp, who dismissed the controversy as politics and admired how Bush put in enough time to qualify for retirement benefits, followed by a look by Suzanne Malveaux at how the White House is handling the issue.

RNC Communications Director Jim Dyke and DNC Finance Vice Chairman Michael Brown debated the issue, a segment Zahn set up by asking Brown why Democrats aren't being hypocritical since they didn't see Clinton's Vietnam avoidance as an issue in 1992.

After Jeff Greenfield ruminated about why Vietnam remains a raw topic after so many years, the show concluded with a segment featuring Time's Joe Klein, OpinionJournal.com's John Fund and Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley.

Klein passionately defended Democrats for making Bush's National Guard years an issue, contending his Democratic buddies were just getting even: "This is about the way Republicans have gone at the patriotism issue for about 20 years now and Democrats just aren't going to take it this year."

Time's Joe Klein: Bush Getting What He
Deserves on Guard Issue

As the quote at the end of item #3 just above shows, when it comes to the baseless and now completely disproved allegation by Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe that President Bush was "AWOL" during a period of his National Guard service in Alabama, Time columnist and CNN contributor Joe Klein is happy that Bush is on the receiving end of a sleazy campaign stunt. [The MRC's Rich Noyes submitted this item for CyberAlert.]

"It's kind of fun to watch Republicans respond to the kind of politics that they've been practicing for the last 20 years, especially the Bush family in 1988," he rationalized on CNN's Paula Zahn Now on Wednesday night.

When Victoria Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld's spokesperson at the Pentagon during the first two and a half years of the Bush administration, objected to that as a "sweeping generalization not backed up by any facts," Klein cited "running on the Pledge of Allegiance" as an example of the kind of "gutter politics" practiced by the Bushes.

Klein readily listed his grievances: "You want me to name the specifics? Willie Horton in 1988, all the other rumors, running on the Pledge of Allegiance in 1988, and the scurrilous campaign against your former boss, John McCain, in 2000, which was utterly outrageous."

Favoring the Pledge of Allegiance may infuriate some liberals, but it is hardly "gutter politics."

MRC analyst Ken Shepherd checked the transcript of the exchange in which Klein expressed his glee that George W. Bush was being subjected to an unfair charge. Anchor Paula Zahn showed a clip in which Secretary of State Colin Powell rebuked Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown for raising the phony "AWOL" charge in a congressional hearing, and asked Klein what he thought.

"Well, it was kind of sleazy and smarmy for Sherrod Brown to bring it up in a hearing where he was going to talk to Colin Powell about important matters of diplomacy," Klein agreed before shifting his focus to the Bushes' alleged sins.

"But I do want to point this out, that four years ago just about this week, members of the Bush campaign were -- Bush campaign people were going through South Carolina spreading the story that John McCain was the father of an interracial child, which he is because he's adopted a child from Bangladesh, as part of one of the most scurrilous campaigns I've ever seen. So I mean, gutter politics goes both ways. And I think that in this case, what we're talking about is a legitimate issue of character which is peripheral to the campaign, not nearly as important as issues of war and solvency, but it's an issue."

Zahn then asked Clarke, who had audibly groaned during Klein's diatribe: "You're sighing, why is that Victoria?"
Clarke replied: "Yeah, 'peripheral' is so strong a term to use for that. It is just not going to be, or shouldn't be, relevant. He served. He served honorably...."

Klein smugly declared: "Well, it's kind of fun to watch Republicans respond to the kind of politics that they've been practicing for the last 20 years, especially the Bush family in 1988 and in 2000"
Clarke retorted: "That's -- it is a gross and sweeping generalization not backed by any facts."
Klein retorted: "It's not a generalization, it's very specific. You want me to name the specifics? Willie Horton in 1988, all the other rumors, running on the Pledge of Allegiance in 1988, and the scurrilous campaign against your former boss, John McCain, in 2000, which was utterly outrageous, which George W. Bush never apologized for."

Klein, who has worked for Newsweek and been a CBS News commentator, has made a career of out of being offended by virtually every political act taken by Republicans:

# He hated the 1992 Republican convention: "The whole week was double-ply, wall-to-wall ugly...the Republican Party reached an unimaginably slouchy, and brazen, and constant, level of mendacity last week...[Bush] is in campaign mode now, which means mendacity doesn't matter, aggression is all and wall-to-wall ugly is the order of battle for the duration." (Newsweek, August 31 1992)

# He hated the Contract with America: "The Republicans have resorted to demagoguery and transparent bribes (like lower taxes). The legislature they promise seems a blustery, selfish, self-righteous desert." (Newsweek, October 31, 1994)

# Republicans are "truly despicable" when it comes to race: "Traditionally -- at least since Nixon's 'southern strategy' -- Republicans have been truly despicable on race, and there are more than a few stalwarts who continue to bloviate disingenuously in support of a 'colorblind' society, by which they mean a tacit relapse into segregation." (Newsweek, June 24, 1996)

# If Clinton had been President on 9/11, evil Republicans would have tied his hands: "The Democrats last fall gave Bush weeks and weeks to prepare his plan and to execute it. Bill Clinton would have never gotten that space from the Republicans. The next day [after September 11], two days later, they would have been screaming, 'Mr. President, why aren't we attacking in Afghanistan? Why aren't we going after Osama bin Laden?' And he would have responded, I think, too quickly and in a not-well- thought-through way....I hate to say this because you and I both know very many honorable Republicans, but the behavior of the Republican extremists in the'90s, who did not accept his legitimacy from day one, borders on being unpatriotic. You cannot run a country in a circumstance like that, you just can't. Democracy suffers. And therefore Clinton's ability to move us through a war or a crisis would have been crippled by that kind of unrelenting opposition." (Appearing on CNBC's Tim Russert on March 9, 2002 to promote his book, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton)

# Bush is a terrible President because he's not liberal enough: "Bush promised a foreign policy of humility and a domestic policy of compassion. He has given us a foreign policy of arrogance and a domestic policy that is cynical, myopic and cruel." (Time, June 9, 2003)

No doubt we'll hear more from Klein about the evils of Republicans and conservatives before the campaign is over.

Matthews Notes Clinton's Draft Avoidance
Never "Revisited"

MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday night wondered aloud why Bush's National Guard service is such an issue after three years of his presidency when Bill Clinton's avoidance of any Vietnam-era service "never got revisited again after that first campaign, despite the fact that he wrote the letter admitting he got help in dodging the draft, despite the fact that everybody knew he lied, basically, to Colonel Holmes."

During the February 11 Hardball segment with NBC News reporter David Gregory, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed how Matthews intervened in the midst of debate over what Bush did:
"Okay, let's go back. I don't understand. Why this keeps coming back is an interesting question, because Bill Clinton's, what he called his cleverness about avoiding the draft, back when he was up for it in his time, never got revisited again after that first campaign, despite the fact that he wrote the letter admitting he got help in dodging the draft, despite the fact that everybody knew he lied, basically, to Colonel Holmes. He never did go in the ROTC at the University of Arkansas Law School. He never did anything he promised to do. Why are his failed promises, his broken promises less interested, less interesting at that time than this guy's are now?"
Cheri Jacobus, Republican strategist: "Well, one reason was because John Kerry at that time, Chris, came out and defended Clinton and said, 'You know, this shouldn't be an issue and we shouldn't divide the nation in campaigns this way. What I think is sort of horrific right now is the way people are pounding at Bush with no evidence....The Democrats are trying to find the equivalent of the stained blue dress. And it's not out there."

NBC's David Gregory stood up for the media's obsession: "I think there's a couple of points. First of all, let me play devil's advocate here. As some of our colleagues pointed out today at, at the briefing, there were statements from the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1992 calling on Bill Clinton and those around him to release all the records related to his draft and, and just everything related to that. So, what's being called upon now are, are, are for all the records to be released. Secondly, I think that what's fundamentally different about this, Chris, is that we're now at a time of a war in the country, where, where your war record matters, where, where war and peace matters, in a much different way. Look, the White House will maintain what really matters is what this President has done as Commander-in-Chief and not what he did as a National Guard Reserve. And that's the fight that we may, we may see more of."

At the top of Thursday's Hardball, Matthews interviewed retired Texas National Guard Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, the man who claims he overheard Joe Allbaugh demanding that the Guard "cleanse" Bush's records. But Matthews got Burkett to concede he didn't see anything noteworthy in the files he supposedly saw in a trash can.

Lauer in Russia: "For Many, Life Worse
Than in Soviet Times"

The Today show's "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" sweeps month ratings gimmick brought Lauer to Moscow's Red Square on Thursday where he repeatedly pressed Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to trash the Bush administration's foreign policy. Lauer asked: "Was Russia right and were the Americans wrong?" on WMD in Iraq and, "Do you think the credibility of the United States and this particular administration has been damaged internationally in this last year?"

Not all have succeeded in Russia's semi-free enterprise economy, but virtually all have more personal, political and religious freedom, yet Lauer suggested many were better off under communism. "The New Russia," Lauer fretted, "how a few people are doing very well and the fear that others are being left very far behind." Lauer lamented: "Russia's rush to capitalism left the vast majority scrambling to survive. For many, life is worse than it was in Soviet times."

The MRC's Geoff Dickens caught Lauer's agenda-laden questions and points, starting with a taped segment aired during the 7am half hour in which Lauer interviewed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as the two sat in an ornate office.

Some of the exchanges:

-- "It was about a year ago that the United States administration went to the United Nations and, and laid out a case for going to war using military action against Iraq. The Russians were opposed to that, favoring more, more inspections. Two of the reasons that were given by the U.S. administration were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq had and links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. A year later no weapons have been found, no firm links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Was Russia right and were the Americans wrong?"
Ivanov: "Sooner or later we have to close down this issue. It is also very important for Russia. Here there is no irony and no effort to gloat on the United States' failure to find such weapons of mass destruction because we still presume that, theoretical, those weapons could have been in place during Saddam but if so where [are] they now?"
Lauer: "But do you think that the U.S. credibility-"
Ivanov: "Were they passed to some other country or hidden or maybe some terrorists laid their hands?"
Lauer: "Do you think that's a possibility?"
Ivanov: "Theoretically? Yes."
Lauer: "Realistically?"
Ivanov: "Realistically I'm skeptical about that."
Lauer: "Do you think the credibility of the United States and this particular administration has been damaged internationally in this last year?"
Ivanov: "To an extent, maybe yes. But that's not the most important issue right now. The most important issue is Iraq itself. We have to come to some sort of interim, at least interim, local government. And after that I think it will be much easier when UN is there to start an international project of aiding Iraq, helping Iraq to come from the ruins."
Lauer: "Secretary of State Colin Powell was here not long ago and one of the things he talked about was the possibility of the United States creating limited use bases in places like Poland and Bulgaria and some former Soviet states. How nervous does that make you?"
Ivanov: "Very nervous."
Lauer: "You feel as if the United States is attempting to surround Russia?"

At the top of the 8am hour, Lauer teased from live Red Square where is was mid-afternoon, as the camera swung around to show what he was describing: "Now over here we have Lenin's Tomb. I referenced that early in the show. It is where Lenin is entombed and it is a tourist attraction. People still go in there, it's a climate-controlled building. And just across over here, kind of something that would probably make Lenin spin in his tomb. This is the Gum department store in this turn of the century arcade, three stories high. Now not all that long ago Russians probably lined up in that building on long lines waiting for the staples they needed in life. Today you will find all kinds of high end stores located in there like Estee Lauder and Bennetton and Levi's and Hugo Boss. And there are a few Russians that have a lot of rubles to drop in places like that. And as a matter of fact coming up that's one of the things we're gonna be talking about. The New Russia, how a few people are doing very well and the fear that others are being left very far behind, Katie."

Lauer soon set up a look at the split between the rich and poor: "When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 there were no Russian billionaires. Today, 13 years later, there are 17. There was a period of economic confusion following the fall of the Soviet Union and a few people did awfully well while others were unfortunately left behind. Today about half the Russian people live in poverty. One in five makes no more than $150 a month but for a few there is prosperity here. There's glamour and glitz. Pradas and Porsches. Many in Moscow have become just too rich for the rest of the country. Flaunting one's wealth is as natural as snow and winter. Take Roman Bruzenskiy. Five years ago he started his own travel company arranging conferences for big companies. Today at 34 he's on the way to making his first million."

After introducing Aliona Doletskaya, who "spent 11 years teaching English in Soviet Russia before she became editor of Vogue magazine," Lauer asserted: "Some homegrown designers are even attracting buyers from abroad. But beyond the bright lights of Moscow Russia's rush to capitalism left the vast majority scrambling to survive. For many life is worse than it was in Soviet times. Still Russia is reinventing itself. The hope is in the new generation, young, hard-working high flyers willing to take risks."

From Red Square, Lauer then interviewed "two faces of the New Russia. Tutta Larsen is Russia's first MTV Veejay and Vassily Sidorov is the President and CEO of Russia's largest mobile phone operator, Mobile Telesystems."

Lauer pressed Sidorov: "Vassily there, there's two things happening here. A lot of people, or not a lot of people, a few people are doing well but unfortunately a lot of people are left behind. So how much responsibility is felt by those who are doing well to stop and pull those other people along with you?"

# Tonight, Friday, on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. On Thursday's Tonight Show, Dennis Kucinich played a racy dating game segment and selected Jennifer Tilly.

-- Brent Baker