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ABC Treats No WMD in Iraq as Big New News, Re-Hash Bush Claims --1/13/2005


1. ABC Treats No WMD in Iraq as Big New News, Re-Hash Bush Claims
Leading with old news. On Wednesday night, CBS and NBC gave brief mention to how the Bush administration has officially ended the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but ABC and CNN treated the revelation as big news even though the lack of WMD in Iraq had been long acknowledged. Peter Jennings led World News Tonight with the subject and used it as a chance to regurgitate embarrassing assertions made by Bush and Cheney. Jennings trumpeted: "The Bush administration has given up the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A final report from the Iraq Survey Group to be published soon basically contradicts nearly every prewar argument about weapons of mass destruction made by Mr. Bush and his senior officials." ABC followed with an excerpt from Barbara Walters' interview with Bush in which she pleaded: "But was it worth it if there were no weapons of mass destruction?" CNN's Judy Woodruff admitted that no WMD "might be like stating the obvious," but she stressed that "to others it is a reminder that one of President Bush's early justifications for the war has been discredited." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann fretted about the "tepid" response from Democrats to the news.

2. Rather Uses Casket Video to Denounce Policy Barring Such Viewing
Dan Rather decided on Wednesday night to turn, the return of the bodies of Louisiana National Guardsmen killed in Iraq, into an opportunity to take a shot at the Bush administration for not allowing pictures of caskets arriving at military bases, a policy, he did not note, which matches that of the Clinton administration. Rather led the CBS Evening News with how "by Pentagon design, the American people have rarely been allowed to see what was seen today -- a homecoming. Flag-draped caskets of six American soldiers were flown to Louisiana where the National Guard chose to ignore Pentagon policy and salute their sacrifice in a public ceremony."

3. Fineman Admits Mainstream Media Act Like Political Party
Newsweek's chief political reporter, Howard Fineman, conceded in an online posting late Tuesday afternoon that the mainstream media have acted like a political party and in the wake of the CBS scandal that party "is dying before our eyes." What he dubbed the American Mainstream Media Party (AMMP) "is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards." Fineman suggested that "the seeds of its demise were sown" when "Walter Cronkite stepped from behind the podium of presumed objectivity to become an outright foe of the war in Vietnam. Later, he and CBS's star White House reporter, Dan Rather, went to painstaking lengths to make Watergate understandable to viewers, which helped seal Richard Nixon's fate..."

4. "Top 10 Questions G.W. Bush Asked His Homeland Security Nominee"
Letterman's "Top Ten Questions George W. Bush Asked His Homeland Security Nominee."


ABC Treats No WMD in Iraq as Big New
News, Re-Hash Bush Claims

ABC's World News Tonight Leading with old news. On Wednesday night, CBS and NBC gave brief mention to how the Bush administration has officially ended the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but ABC and CNN treated the revelation as big news even though the lack of WMD in Iraq had been long acknowledged and the chief weapons inspector filed a report in September saying no WMD could be found. Peter Jennings led World News Tonight with the subject and used it as a chance to regurgitate embarrassing assertions made by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Jennings trumpeted: "We learned today that the Bush administration has given up the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A final report from the Iraq Survey Group to be published soon basically contradicts nearly every prewar argument about weapons of mass destruction made by Mr. Bush and his senior officials." ABC followed with an excerpt from Barbara Walters' interview with Bush in which she pleaded: "But was it worth it if there were no weapons of mass destruction? Now we know that that was wrong, was it worth it?"

CNN's Judy Woodruff, the MRC's Ken Shepherd observed, led Inside Politics with the topic: "Thank you for joining us. We begin with Iraq and new word that the physical hunt for weapons of mass destruction ended in recent weeks. To some, that might be like stating the obvious, but to others it is a reminder that one of President Bush's early justifications for the war has been discredited. Let's go to the White House now and CNN's Elaine Quijano. Hi, Elaine."

Quijano explained: "Hello to you, Judy. That's right. The President's spokesman says that the White House is no longer holding open the possibility that there might still be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. White House spokesman Scott McClellan saying earlier today that it was his understanding that the physical search for WMDs in Iraq is over. Now that conclusion comes almost two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In making its case, the Bush administration had pointed to what it said was intelligence that indicated that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction programs and likely had stockpiles hidden away. But no stockpiles were found and U.S. intelligence officials says the man who led the search, Charles Duelfer, is back in the U.S. and working on his final report. But today, Scott McClellan said the President has already addressed this issue."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann expressed disappointment that Democrats delivered what he termed a "tepid" response to the WMD news. On Countdown, Olbermann proposed to USA Today reporter Tom Squitieri: "There was, speaking of the Democrats, there was a kind of a run of the mill response from the Minority Leader, Ms. Pelosi, in the House, about how the President, let me read it, 'needs to explain to the American people why he was so wrong for so long about the reasons for war.' But that, I mean, that seemed pretty tepid. Are the Democrats intending to try to make more hay out of this?"

Squitieri agreed with Olbermann's assessment: "It did seem tepid indeed, Keith, and I think they are trying to, as I said, Representative Tauscher wants a hearing in the Armed Services Committee, which actually is not a bad committee on Capitol Hill to have this hearing. There are Republicans and Democrats on that committee who would like to see how this money was spent. It's been going on for a long time, this question of weapons of mass destruction. We all know Condi Rice's things about mushroom clouds in our cities if we don't take action in Iraq and all that. The reason for going to war has changed over the months, but the money spent has not. And now with the issue of counterinsurgency every day killing U.S. troops, that money has to be diverted to that purpose. That, in large part, is why they stopped the search. There was nothing to be found, and they needed to spend the money elsewhere."
Olbermann: "And it's always American money."
Squitieri: "Oh, yeah."

A Wednesday Washington Post story, "Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month," prompted the news coverage. An excerpt from the top of the January 12 article by Dafna Linzer:

The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.

In interviews, officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas.

Charles DuelferFour months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States....

END of Excerpt

For the story in full: www.washingtonpost.com

As noted above, CBS held the WMD news to short items.

CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather announced: "A White House spokesman said today what was once cited as the main reason for going to war with Iraq, the search for weapons of mass destruction, is officially over. No such weapons were found."

Over on the NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams noted: "And from Washington tonight, word that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has ended officially. The White House said the final report on the search will be similar to a previous draft which said Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, and no capability of making them."

With "No WMD" on screen, Jennings teased his January 12 newscast: "On World News Tonight, the Bush administration acknowledges the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is basically over. President Bush tells Barbara Walters the war was still worth fighting. An ABC News exclusive."

From Houston, Jennings began: "Good evening from Houston. We are here today to work on a future program about the state of health care in America, the dismal state in many ways. And while we're here in the President's home state a week before his second inauguration, we have asked some folks what they think is important for the President's second term. We'll get to that. We begin with the war, which involves all Americans. We learned today that the Bush administration has given up the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A final report from the Iraq survey group to be published soon basically contradicts nearly every prewar argument about weapons of mass destruction made by Mr. Bush and his senior officials. Here's ABC's Martha Raddatz."

As checked against the closed-captioning by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, Raddatz recounted: "Saddam Hussein always insisted he no longer had weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration insisted he was lying. The threat was deemed so grave, it was worth waging war."
George W. Bush, October 7, 2002: "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Raddatz: "Now the search for weapons is over. In the final report from chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, due out next month, has concluded that [text on screen] 'the former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD.' Today White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the U.S. was not alone in its intelligence assessment."
Scott McClellan: "Now what is important is that we need to go back and look at what was wrong with much of the intelligence that we had accumulated over a 12-year period and that our allies had accumulated over that same period of time and correct any flaws."
Raddatz: "Nearly a year ago, the first weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, reported to the administration that he did not think Iraq was hiding weapons."
David Kay, former chief weapons inspector: "It's taken them another year, and in fact we were right a year ago. There were no weapons there."
Raddatz: "Kay estimates that over a billion dollars was spent looking for weapons and countless man hours. Today House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said President Bush needs to explain why the evidence was so flawed."
Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader: "The administration owes an apology to the American people for taking us down a path. They have compromised truth and trust."
Raddatz concluded: "And the 1700 people on the Iraqi survey group, Peter, they are now gathering intelligence on the insurgents."

Jennings then set up a clip from Barbara Walters' interview with the President set to air on Friday's 20/20: "President Bush has said before, as you know, that even if the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was wrong, invading Iraq was the right thing to do. And today, in an exclusive interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Mr. Bush was steadfast."
Barbara Walters: "This was our main reason for going in. So now when we read, okay, the search is over, what do you feel?"
George W. Bush: "Well, like you, I felt like we would find weapons of mass destruction. Or like many. Many here in the United States. Many around the world. The United Nations thought he had weapons of mass destruction. And so therefore, one, we need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering. Saddam was dangerous. And the world is safer without him in power."
Walters: "But was it worth it if there were no weapons of mass destruction? Now we know that that was wrong, was it worth it?"
Bush: "Oh, absolutely."

Rather Uses Casket Video to Denounce
Policy Barring Such Viewing

CBS's Dan Rather Dan Rather decided on Wednesday night to turn, the return of the bodies of Louisiana National Guardsmen killed in Iraq, into an opportunity to take a shot at the Bush administration for not allowing pictures of caskets arriving at military bases, a policy, he did not note, which matches that of the Clinton administration. Rather led the CBS Evening News with how "by Pentagon design, the American people have rarely been allowed to see what was seen today -- a homecoming. Flag-draped caskets of six American soldiers were flown to Louisiana where the National Guard chose to ignore Pentagon policy and salute their sacrifice in a public ceremony."

Rather teased the January 12 CBS Evening News: "Tonight, as U.S. casualties in Iraq mount, a rare sight today: Cameras capture the homecoming of some of America's fallen heroes."

Rather opened his broadcast, over video of flag-draped caskets: "Good evening. In nearly two years of war in Iraq, 1,353 U.S. servicemen and women have given their lives. In all that time, by Pentagon design, the American people have rarely been allowed to see what was seen today -- a homecoming. Flag-draped caskets of six American soldiers were flown to Louisiana where the National Guard chose to ignore Pentagon policy and salute their sacrifice in a public ceremony."

Viewers then saw a full story from CBS's Jim Acosta.

Fineman Admits Mainstream Media Act Like
Political Party

Newsweek's chief political reporter, Howard Fineman, conceded in an online posting late Tuesday afternoon that the mainstream media have acted like a political party and in the wake of the CBS scandal that party "is dying before our eyes." What he dubbed the American Mainstream Media Party (AMMP) "is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards." Fineman suggested that "the seeds of its demise were sown" when "Walter Cronkite stepped from behind the podium of presumed objectivity to become an outright foe of the war in Vietnam. Later, he and CBS's star White House reporter, Dan Rather, went to painstaking lengths to make Watergate understandable to viewers, which helped seal Richard Nixon's fate..."

An excerpt from "The 'Media Party' is over: CBS' downfall is just the tip of the iceberg," an "analysis" by Fineman posted Tuesday (January 11) on Newsweek's page buried inside MSNBC.com:

....At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.

Now the AMMP is reeling, and not just from the humiliation of CBS News. We have a president who feels it's almost a point of honor not to hold more press conferences -- he's held far fewer than any modern predecessor -- and doesn't seem to agree that the media has any "right" to know what's really going in inside his administration. The AMMP, meanwhile, is regarded with ever growing suspicion by American voters, viewers and readers, who increasingly turn for information and analysis only to non-AMMP outlets that tend to reinforce the sectarian views of discrete slices of the electorate.

Yes, I know: A purely objective viewpoint does not exist in the cosmos or in politics. Yes, I know: Today's media foodfights are mild compared with the viciousness of pamphleteers and partisan newspapers of old, from colonial times forward. Yes, I know: The notion of a neutral "mainstream" national media gained a dominant following only in World War II and in its aftermath, when what turned out to be a temporary moderate consensus came to govern the country.

Still, the notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto. Now it's pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things. The seeds of its demise were sown with the best of intentions in the late 1960s, when the AMMP was founded in good measure (and ironically enough) by CBS. Old folks may remember the moment: Walter Cronkite stepped from behind the podium of presumed objectivity to become an outright foe of the war in Vietnam. Later, he and CBS's star White House reporter, Dan Rather, went to painstaking lengths to make Watergate understandable to viewers, which helped seal Richard Nixon's fate as the first president to resign.

The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans. The problem was that, once the AMMP declared its existence by taking sides, there was no going back. A party was born.

It was not accident that the birth coincided with an identity crisis in the Democratic Party. The ideological energy of the New Deal had faded; Vietnam and various social revolutions of the '60s were tearing it apart. Into the vacuum came the AMMP, which became the new forum for choosing Democratic candidates. A "reform" movement opened up the nominating process, taking it out of the smoke-filled backrooms and onto television and into the newsrooms. The key to winning the nomination and, occasionally, the presidency, became expertise at riding the media wave. McGovern did it, Gary Hart almost did (until he fell off his surfboard); Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton rode it all the way.

Republicans always have been less dependent on, or concerned about, the AMMP's role in their internal politics. Richard Nixon hated the AMMP, with good reason, and learned just enough to keep it at bay - until, as president, he put its leaders on various enemies lists. Ronald Reagan, using his own actor's craft and the stage management of Mike Deaver, realized that he could co-opt the AMMP with the irresistible power of pretty, inspirational pictures. Conservative activists, tapping their own pocketbooks or those of sympathetic corporate tycoons, learned to work around the AMMP with mailing lists, grassroots politics and direct-mail, first through the Postal Service, then the Internet....

In this situation, the last thing the AMMP needed was to aim wildly at the president -- and not only miss, but be seen as having a political motivation in attacking in the first place. Were Dan Rather and Mary Mapes after the truth or victory when they broadcast their egregiously sloppy story about Bush's National Guard Service? The moment it made air it began to fall apart, and eventually was shredded by factions within the AMMP itself, conservative national outlets and by the new opposition party that is emerging: The Blogger Nation. It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the "media" has any credibility.

And, as Walter Cronkite would say, that's the way it is.

END of Excerpt

For Fineman's case in full: msnbc.msn.com

Fineman many be onto something in how mainstream media credibility has declined, but I'd suggest that mostly applies to citizens who sample more that one news outlet a day, are more likely to watch cable news and are thus less likely to be influenced by bias because they are more informed. The broadcast networks still have great influence since their audiences are far larger than cable's and many who watch broadcast network news are lighter and less-informed news consumers and thus more likely to be swayed by skewed news. (The least-watched broadcast network evening newscast, the CBS Evening News, still has four times more viewers than does the highest-rated cable news network, FNC, in prime time.)

"Top 10 Questions G.W. Bush Asked His
Homeland Security Nominee"

From the January 12 Late Show with David Letterman, the "Top Ten Questions George W. Bush Asked His Homeland Security Nominee." Late Show home page: www.cbs.com

10. "Do you have previous experience securing homelands"?

9. "How will you make the terror alert system more cumbersome and ineffective?"

8. "Do you generally get along well with people named Condoleezza?"

7. "Tell me again -- who the hell are you"?

6. "If I have a beer during our Cabinet meetings, will you tell Laura?"

5. "Be honest -- would you really spend any time keeping Delaware safe?"

4. "You're not a member of Al-Qaeda, are you?"

3. "May I refer to you as my 'Secretary Homey'?"

2. "Are you comfortable coordinating information among the CIA the FBI, and KFC?"

1. "Is there any chance of you going 'McGreevey' on us?"


-- Brent Baker