ABC Sees "Harsh" Attack from Bush While Kerry is "Hitting Back" --8/12/2004
2. On Kerry's Cambodia Backtrack Only FNC Cares, Sawyer All Tease
3. Media Treatment of Kerry Vietnam Record Echoes Jones & Troopers
4. Rundown of
CyberAlert Items on Coverage of Kerry in Vietnam
A "harsh" Bush and Cheney versus the Kerry-Edwards team which is simply "hitting back." ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas warned on Wednesday night that "the Bush campaign unleashed its harshest attacks yet on Senator Kerry" as "Vice President Cheney accused Kerry of exhibiting, quote, 'a lot of hesitancy and uncertainty'" while President Bush also "went on the attack." ABC's Jonathan Karl argued that "the fervor of the attacks suggests Republicans are worried Kerry is gaining ground." But in the very next story, ABC painted Kerry as the set upon victim fighting back on a winning issue. Vargas trumpeted how "Kerry was hitting back today, but on an issue that President Bush once hoped would be an advantage for him -- the drug prescription bill." Reporter Dan Harris touted how "the Kerry campaign clearly thinks it's found a winning issue with seniors." Harris proceeded to relay "grumbling" from Nevada seniors dissatisfied with Bush's plan.
ABC corrected Bush but not Kerry. In the story on Bush's attacks on Kerry, Karl ran a clip of Bush claiming that "Senator Kerry now agrees with me that knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power." Karl countered: "Not exactly. What Senator Kerry said is that he would still have voted to give the President the authority to go to war, but that he would have used that authority differently." Karl then played a soundbite of Kerry maintaining that "I've been consistent all along."
But in the piece on Kerry attacking Bush over prescription drug coverage in Medicare, Dan Harris failed to correct Kerry's claims that Bush opposes importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada and that he voted against the Bush plan which was enacted into law. FNC's Carl Cameron, however, caught both misstatements. On Special Report with Brit Hume, Cameron noted: "Angry Bush aides fired back, saying Kerry knows full well that the President has already authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to import drugs from overseas once the FDA concludes they're safe." And Cameron observed: "In fact, when the final vote occurred, Kerry skipped it."
Plus, while ABC's Harris focused on seniors who find the current options inadequate, FNC's Cameron pointed out that the prescription plan signed by Bush last year represented "the biggest ever expansion of Medicare passed into law."
Wednesday's CBS Evening News didn't air a campaign story and the NBC Nightly News, with Tom Brokaw anchoring from Greece, held its coverage to a timeless piece on the Hispanic vote.
(On Tuesday night's Hardball on MSNBC, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed, NBC News reporter Norah O'Donnell certainly carried Kerry's water: "And something to point out, too, about the President's joke today about Senator Kerry. He said Senator Kerry would have voted to go to war. Senator Kerry did not vote to go to war. Senator Kerry voted to authorize to give the President the authority to go to war if he needed to. And that's a distinction that's worth pointing out and certainly one that the Democrats would point out in this case. And the point that, that Senator Kerry has made while campaigning is, he would have voted to authorize, but he would have done going to war if needed to and certainly carrying it out in a much different way.")
A full rundown of the ABC and FNC stories from Wednesday night, August 11:
-- ABC. Vargas teased the World News Tonight take on the campaign: "The Bush campaign's toughest attack yet -- questioning Senator Kerry's qualifications to be commander-in-chief."
Vargas introduced the subsequent story: "The war in Iraq and the issue of leadership were front and center in the presidential race today. The Bush campaign unleashed its harshest attacks yet on Senator Kerry. Vice President Cheney accused Kerry of exhibiting, quote, 'a lot of hesitancy and uncertainty.' He said that is not acceptable behavior for someone who wants to be Commander-in-Chief. Then, President Bush went on the attack. With the Bush campaign, here's ABC's Jonathan Karl."
Karl began, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning file: "In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the President attacked John Kerry for being unclear about what he'd do in Iraq."
Vargas segued to the next piece, but with a very different tone: "John Kerry was hitting back today, but on an issue that President Bush once hoped would be an advantage for him -- the drug prescription bill. This is an important issue to nearly 25 million senior citizens in this country and they have the highest voter turnout of any age group. ABC's Dan Harris is traveling with the Kerry campaign and joins us now from Henderson, Nevada. Dan?"
Harris began: "Elizabeth, the Kerry campaign clearly thinks it's found a winning issue with seniors, one Senator Kerry was hitting hard here in Nevada today. That issue, as you mentioned, is the President's plan to provide prescription drug coverage for people on Medicare."
-- FNC. Brit Hume, on his 6pm EDT show, set up his lead story: "Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry took his health care reform plans to a new audience today on the western campaign trail. Kerry attacked the President and courted older voters with promises of less expensive medicine if he is elected. Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports."
Cameron started with a clip of Kerry: "Dr. Kerry is here to cure y'all."
The Kerry campaign on Wednesday backtracked from John Kerry's oft-repeated claim that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968, in what would have been a violation of international law by the U.S., but only FNC cared and ran a full story on the admission prompted by John O'Neill's book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. On Wednesday's Good Morning America, ABC's Diane Sawyer teased an interview with John McCain by noting how the presidential race is "heating up with attacks on John Kerry's war record," but though she promised "to talk about it all in an exclusive interview with Senator John McCain," she failed to raise the topic with him and instead fretted about whether President Bush is inappropriately "using September 11th as a political issue?"
CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown has studiously avoided O'Neill and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but the network got to O'Neill on Wednesday afternoon, pairing him with retired Admiral William Crowe, a Kerry backer, on the 5pm EDT Wolf Blitzer Reports. Though O'Neill mentioned the Cambodia matter, Blitzer did not pursue it and CNN reporter Brian Todd did not mention it in a pre-interview set up story. For the transcript of the August 11 Wolf Blitzer Reports, which devoted about 15 minutes, minus an ad break, between 5:15 and 5:30pm EDT to charges by O'Neill and other swift boat commanders that Kerry did not earn all his medals and has exaggerated his heroism, and Crowe's retorts: www.cnn.com
O'Neill popped up Wednesday morning on FNC's Fox & Friends for an interview session, during which, the MRC's Megan McCormack noticed, Brian Kilmeade presumed others were reporting on the Cambodia angle: "Something else getting a lot of traction is the Cambodia story, where he says its indelible, it's etched in his mind, his Christmas he spent in Cambodia, a place that Richard Nixon said no American troops were in. Well, he was there being shot at from three different sides. What have you found out about that?" O'Neill replied: "It's a total and complete lie. It's a total fabrication. He was never in Cambodia on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He said that more than 50 times and yet, even in his new book Tour of Duty, he's not in Cambodia anymore. He is at a base in Vietnam dreaming of sugar plums, that's literally what he says in the book Tour of Duty."
In an October 14, 1979 review for the Boston Herald of the movie Apocalypse Now, Kerry asserted: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodia border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas...The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real." He repeated the same claim on the Senate floor in 1986.
One problem with his Nixon as the villain tale: On December 24, 1968 Lyndon Johnson was the President. And it's not as if Kerry was in-country on Christmas Eve 1969. He couldn't have been since he was only in Vietnam for a little over four months.
(As noted in the August 11 CyberAlert Special, O'Neill launched his book tour Tuesday night on FNC's Hannity & Colmes which, an hour before Pat Buchanan interviewed him on MSNBC's Scarborough Country (where Buchanan filled in for Scarborough), touted the interview, in an on-screen graphic, as a "Fox News Exclusive.")
None of the broadcast network morning shows, which are focused on the Scott Peterson murder trial and Kobe Bryant case, have yet featured O'Neill -- and I wouldn't hold my breath.
A full rundown of the August 11 GMA and Special Report with Brit Hume stories:
-- ABC's Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer plugged up top: "The presidential race, as we know, heating up with attacks on John Kerry's war record and a firestorm over President Bush's choice for a new CIA director, and new terrorism warnings, and we're going to talk about it all in an exclusive interview with Senator John McCain, just ahead."
A few minutes later, McCain appeared via satellite from a very dark Crawford Texas. Sawyer, the MRC's Jessica Anderson noticed, never raised "attacks" on "Kerry's war record," never mind a dispassionate look at it. Instead, she posed these questions:
# "Let me turn to the news we just had from Robin Roberts, which is there is a report this morning that Osama bin Laden has said that he wants the first attack to be against some high-ranking government officials. Have you and other members of Congress been told to do anything differently, and are you?"
# "Well, at this exceedingly sensitive time, probably no more sensitive position than the head of the CIA. The new nominee, as we know, is Porter Goss, Congressman, Republican, and he is already on the record saying that he views John Kerry's national security views as, quote, 'unrealistic and dangerously naive.' What about having a partisan head of the CIA?"
# "But one of the questions raised about the CIA and the embarrassment before was that perhaps the CIA was telling the White House what it wanted to hear. Do you increase this danger?"
# "As we said, you're out there with the President. There's a new ad unveiled and this whole issue of what is fair and not fair about September 11th has arisen again. I'm going play an excerpt from this new ad. Here it is."
# "In recent days, John Kerry has said that in his first six months in office, he will bring troops home. Haven't heard you comment on that because you had once called for more troops, not less....So he's wrong to promise that?"
Last Thursday, GMA ran a story focused on McCain's condemnation of the ad produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. See the August 6 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
Garrett began: "John Kerry's campaign doesn't want you to read this book, 'Unfit for Command,' co-authored by a Vietnam veteran who served alongside Kerry."
For a review of the August 9 Special Report with Brit Hume story, see the August 10 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
I noticed that they've posted a transcript of O'Neill's debate with Kerry on ABC's Dick Cavett Show back on June 30, 1971, a program C-SPAN re-ran a few months ago on its Sunday night Road to the White House program: swift1.he.net
"Kerry's Troopers: Déj' vu anyone?" In a piece for National Review Online posted on Wednesday, the MRC's Tim Graham drew on recent CyberAlert articles to recount the media's studious refusal to pursue questions about Kerry's Vietnam record, as they instead preferred to "expose the cynical conspiracies of the partisan plotters against the Democrat." Graham compared current treatment of the Kerry story to how the major media handled the allegations against Bill Clinton from Paula Jones and the troopers.
The NRO article by Graham, the MRC's Director of Media Analysis, is posted online at: www.nationalreview.com
A reprint of the August 11 piece:
It all seems so familiar now. In their overt desire to reject a second term for a President Bush, the liberal media elite allows the Democratic candidate to create a legend around himself and his past. Whatever inconvenient holes or weaknesses there are in his personal history are whitewashed out. When the Democrat's critics challenge these legends, only then is it time to travel beyond the mythology and launch into investigative journalism - but only to expose the cynical conspiracies of the partisan plotters against the Democrat.
This entire cycle, which recalls 1992 and then repeats in every other year of the Clinton era, is now coming around again with the ad and book campaign of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In Clinton-era terms, it could echo the Paula Jones case. Like Jones, the vets held a press conference (at the National Press Club in early May) that most national media outlets strenuously ignored. So months later, they created another splash to draw the media out, only to be sharply criticized.
But the better Clinton-era comparison for the swift-boat veterans are the Arkansas state troopers. Obviously, Vietnam was no walk through a Little Rock nightclub. But these men know Kerry, as the troopers knew Clinton. They say they are eyewitnesses to some moments that do not match the much-seen flattering filmstrips of his wartime experiences. It is the very possibility of their persuasive power that causes Democratic-media apparatchiks to decide they must be discredited. Their motives for lying were the primary focus, and reporters rarely sought to confirm the negative stories, preferring to leave them unsubstantiated and uncirculated.
Why would the media approach the swift-boat vets opposing Kerry by completely changing the subject instead of engaging the battle on the turf of Kerry's record? If they're so confident Kerry is unassailable and the vets are politically daft, why not demand Kerry's records to shut it down? Here again you can see the Clinton parallels. Behind the pro-Democrat bravado is a real lack of confidence in what a careful evaluation of the public record will show. They change the subject to motivations and personal attacks because merely raising the subject, the question of whether Kerry served or protested honorably and without great political calculation is a loser for Democrats. If the portrait of Kerry tips even a bit from jut-jawed hero to unreliable ally in a crisis, a self-promoter with presidential ambitions in the most trying situations, Kerry's chances with veterans and military families may be quite hampered.
If conservatives were slow to see Clinton parallels, the media liberals were not. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted that the new swift-boat veterans book comes "from Regnery Press, which is supported in some way by Richard Mellon Scaife of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and you now bring in the whole mystical right-wing conspiracy jazz." Keith doesn't feel he has to have any proof of Scaife-prints on Regnery or the veterans, just a vague but vivid belief in harmonic conservative convergence.
Wall Street Journal pundit Al Hunt denounced the effort in the classic Washington way: When you don't want to assess whether an attack is true or false, just say that asking the question is crappy politics. "Suppose in the 1992 presidential election, after an unconfirmed rumor surfaced about an alleged affair then President Bush had years earlier, Clinton supporters decided to make marital fidelity a central issue. That would be almost as crazy as the current effort by some Bush backers to focus attention on John Kerry's Vietnam War record and subsequent protests." For Hunt and others, the calculus is easy: Bush ducked, Kerry fought. What Kerry did while fighting or protesting is "beyond the pale" of public discussion.
Conservatives and liberals can debate whether the veterans charging Kerry is "Unfit for Command" are a boon or a bane to Bush. But the news media is supposed to operate on a different plane with a different formula. What is the true and full biography of a man who wants to be president? They're supposed to investigate, and then report if the substance of the charges is true or false. Instead, the media act with extreme political calculation at the risk of their own reputation for fair play - just as they did in the Clinton years.
On NBC, the swift-boat-vet ad isn't a new frontier for investigative journalism, but an undesirable outbreak of free speech that should have been prevented by law. Tom Brokaw asked Friday night: "Up next, NBC News 'In Depth' tonight: The latest campaign ad from an independent political group. Harsh attacks. Are these ads totally out of control?" Could he telegraph any more blatantly that he wished this ad did not exist, or that he would have liked to control it right into the dumpster?
He later explained: "NBC's Andrea Mitchell tells us tonight, the campaign-finance law supposed to fix the system left this very big loophole." The network stars have discovered that "527" groups, which the Democrats have built willy-nilly to defeat President Bush, have suddenly become undesirable. So we should ask: Is Tom Brokaw out of control? Aren't he and his fellow reporters one giant "loophole" in our campaign speech system?
The mere fact that we're at this embryonic stage of Kerry's biography in August shows the lack of media vigilance about Kerry's resume. If anyone would question the timing of the current Swift Boat vets campaign, they are correct. They could have started in May at the National Press Club. They could have started in February, when Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats drew two weeks of meticulous network pounding of George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. (For example, take CBS's John Roberts on February 12: "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.")
But they should have been exploring this story on their own in January, when Kerry broke out of the Democratic pack through powerful and repeated war heroism stories. Since Sen. Kerry began putting his Vietnam experience into biographical overdrive before the Iowa caucuses, it might have seemed like an obvious task for reporters to assess Kerry's service in greater detail. But they did not. They are more interested in electing Kerry than telling us about him.
END Reprint of article posted on National Review Online.
See the link above to the posted version for the links embedded in the article.
A rundown of summaries of many CyberAlert articles this year which recounted media coverage, or lack thereof, for the anti-Kerry Vietnam veterans while the networks touted Kerry's "band of brothers" and bashed Bush over questions about his National Guard service.
From the most recent (except numbers 1 and 2 above) to the oldest:
-- August 10 CyberAlert. FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume on Monday night picked up on how John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi assert in their new book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, that contrary to John Kerry's claims that he was in Cambodia in 1968 when President Nixon insisted no U.S. armed forces were in that nation, an allegation he raised in railing in 1986 against President Reagan's efforts to help the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, he was not in Cambodia. The other networks, however, ignored that. The ABC and NBC evening newscasts instead focused their campaign stories on Kerry's agenda, an attack on the Bush stem cell research policy. ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas portrayed a broad range of potential cures being blocked by Bush: "Many believe such research could hold a cure for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's." Reporter John Cochran re-played again a May clip of Nancy Reagan advocating federal funding for embryonic stem cell research followed by a soundbite from Ron Reagan at the Democratic convention before Cochran brought up John McCain's name. See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- July 29 PM convention edition. In a glowing profile, Byron Pitts showed Kerry as an anti-Vietnam war protester in 1971 dramatically asking Senators, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake," but he gave no hint how Kerry alienated a great many Vietnam veterans by making unfounded charges of war crimes. CBS's entirely positive review of Kerry's life ended with some of the Kerry campaign's preferred "Band of Brothers" imagery:
-- June 2 CyberAlert. CNN on Monday night aired a four-minute info-mercial for John Kerry, but the Kerry campaign didn't have to pay a cent for it since it was aired in the guise of a news story by Aaron Brown, tied to Memorial Day, on NewsNight. Without uttering a syllable about questions raised about whether Kerry had really earned the first of three Purple Hearts, which allowed him to leave Vietnam early, or how his Swift boat commanders and colleagues have questioned his fitness to lead and motivations in Vietnam, Brown delivered a panegyrical, event-by-event tribute to Kerry's heroic Vietnam service. See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- May 5 CyberAlert. CBS on Tuesday night tried to discredit some Vietnam veterans critical of John Kerry by impugning them as partisan activists tied to the Bush campaign, though the only link seems to be a public relations firm involved in the 2000 campaign, and tarring all of them with the supposed dirty work for Richard Nixon of one. Very McCarthyistic. FNC's Carl Cameron, however, managed to avoid innuendo as he undermined the credibility of specific vets by showing how in the past they had praised Kerry. CBS's Byron Pitts went back to 1971 as he recalled how John O'Neill, who debated Kerry about Vietnam on ABC's Dick Cavett Show, "was handpicked by the Nixon administration to discredit Kerry." Pitts added, without any explanation, that "the press conference was set up by the same people who," in 2000, "tried to discredit John McCain's reputation in Vietnam service." Then Pitts connected the anti-Kerry veterans to a presumed nefarious "strategy" they had nothing to do with implementing: "It's the same strategy used to go after Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam." See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- April 23 CyberAlert: CBS on Thursday night caught up with the Kerry campaign's release of his Vietnam military service records, but reporter Jim Stewart avoided the very allegation from Kerry's former commander -- that he really didn't suffer a combat wound for which he was awarded his first Purple Heart -- the charge that fueled the document release. Instead, anchor Dan Rather stressed how the records "show glowing evaluations of him during combat in the Vietnam War." Stewart reminded viewers of Kerry's Senate testimony 30 years ago and noted how "a lot of veterans got mad at Kerry," but avoided citing Kerry's most incendiary claims which so angered his comrades, that Americans regularly committed atrocities in Vietnam, as he asserted that Kerry is "still trying to explain the path that led him from war hero to anti-war activist." Stewart even painted Kerry as a victim, recalling how "Kerry suspected there would be a price" to pay for his anti-war activism. See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- April 23 CyberAlert: The broadcast network morning shows on Thursday each aired a single story on Kerry's military records, each featuring a unique interview with Kerry, but none of them included a single Republican soundbite, though ABC featured one old soundbite from a 1971 debate opponent. Unlike the Bush National Guard controversy, there were no story-underlining interviews with journalists or political pundits. ABC's Dan Harris let Kerry suggest there was no Republican pressure for the release, but then insisted "some veterans and conservatives have begun something of a cottage industry criticizing Kerry's anti-war activism." CBS's Jim Stewart could only ask why Kerry delayed the records release, and Kerry denied there was any delay. NBC's Carl Quintanilla made no reference to Kerry's Vietnam records, changing the subject from his 1971 Senate testimony to present-day Iraq. See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- April 22 CyberAlert: A lot more skeptical of Bush than Kerry on Vietnam-era service. Back on February 10 when the White House released George W. Bush's National Guard records, the networks stressed how they only "raise more questions." But with Kerry, the networks ignored for a week questions raised last week in the Boston Globe about whether he deserved one of his Purple Hearts, and then prompted by Kerry's release of his records finally got to the story on Wednesday, but were satisfied with the records despite the lack of documentation for his first Purple Heart. "We'll take 'A Closer Look' tonight at John Kerry's distinguished war record," ABC anchor Charles Gibson promised Wednesday night in stating as fact a claim that is in dispute. Gibson then shifted the burden to Kerry's critics: "His opponents are trying hard to use it against him." CBS didn't even consider Kerry newsworthy, but NBC and CNN ran stories. See: www.mediaresearch.org
You'd think with all that focus on Kerry's heroics in Vietnam they'd have a few minutes for a contrary view.
-- Brent Baker