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ABC's Sawyer Frets Ridge Departure "Makes Us More Vulnerable" --12/2/2004


1. ABC's Sawyer Frets Ridge Departure "Makes Us More Vulnerable"
If Diane Sawyer were to quit would that mean the end to the reliability of ABC News? On Wednesday's Good Morning America, Sawyer wanted to know if the resignation of Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security "makes everybody more vulnerable?" She also fretted that the departure of "seven high-level officials," which would include the Commerce Secretary, as if he were key to national security, "has to mean that something, some kind of memory knowledge is departing. Doesn't this make us more vulnerable?" Former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke pointed out the obvious to her: "No, actually the memory and the knowledge is at the career civil service level and the politicians who come in at the top really rely on the people that we don't see that actually make these departments work."

2. Tom Brokaw: "I Reflect the Sensibilities" of Red & Blue States
On the morning of his last day as anchor of the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw contended on Imus in the Morning that he worked to make sure his viewers didn't "know what my personal beliefs were" and insisted that "I don't think I'm easily characterized. You know, I grew up in red-state America, but I live in blue-state America and I like to think that I reflect the sensibilities of both those places."

3. MSNBC's Olbermann Insists: "I'm Not Political. I Don't Vote"
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has spent the past month using his show to push baseless Internet rumors of vote fraud in a quest to undermine the credibility of President Bush's win accepted by everyone except Jesse Jackson, a few bloggers and himself. But in a Web interview posted on Tuesday, Olbermann maintained: "I'm not political. I don't vote -- I don't believe journalists covering politics should....I have no more interest in the political outcome of an election than I did in the winner or loser of any ballgame I ever covered." Nonetheless, Olbermann continued his favorite pursuit Wednesday night, teasing his lead item on Countdown: "John Kerry joins a lawsuit over the recount in Ohio. Is it a bold statement about counting every vote or a token's gesture just to quiet the activists?"

4. Kalb Admires Rather's "Inner Strength" to Denounce Conservatives
You'd think those interested in improving journalism would be embarrassed by how Dan Rather impugned critics, of his hit job on George W. Bush, as politically-motivated hacks out to suppress the truth, when, in fact, they turned out to be correct about how he had used forged memos in his ideologically-driven smear. But in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Wednesday, Marvin Kalb, a former correspondent for CBS News and NBC News, saw the threat to journalism as coming from the right and praised Rather for assailing conservatives: "Television must deal with political pressures to conform to resurgent conservative values that appear to be stifling editorial courage in the newsroom. Rather had the inner strength recently to criticize 'these partisan, political ideological challenges.' Will his successor have similar courage?"


ABC's Sawyer Frets Ridge Departure "Makes
Us More Vulnerable"

ABC's Diane Sawyer If Diane Sawyer were to quit would that mean the end to the reliability of ABC News? On Wednesday's Good Morning America, Sawyer wanted to know if the resignation of Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security "makes everybody more vulnerable?" She also fretted that the departure of "seven high-level officials," which would include the Commerce Secretary, as if he were key to national security, "has to mean that something, some kind of memory knowledge is departing. Doesn't this make us more vulnerable?" Former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke pointed out the obvious to her: "No, actually the memory and the knowledge is at the career civil service level and the politicians who come in at the top really rely on the people that we don't see that actually make these departments work."

The MRC's Jessica Anderson caught this exchange, on the December 1 GMA, between Sawyer and Clarke via satellite from Washington, DC:

Sawyer: "Well, as we told you, another key terrorism official in the administration is now leaving, that's Homeland Security Director [sic] Tom Ridge, which raises the question: With the departure of all these officials, are American defenses down? And we want to turn now to Washington and former White House Counter-terrorism Czar Richard Clarke, also an ABC News consultant. Good morning to you, Dick. It bears the question, though, the big one for us, how important was the man himself to Homeland in preventing attacks and does this mean his departure makes everybody more vulnerable?"
Clarke: "Well, I think he was important as a symbol and he was hired as a symbol. He was hired specifically to go to the White House right after 9/11 because he looked like he was he reassuring, he was a war veteran, and his job was really to tell the American people things were okay. Unfortunately, he went right into the anthrax problem and a series of other things, the color codes, and he unfortunately became a symbol that wasn't telling the American people that everything was okay."
Sawyer: "But with all these officials departing, we're counting seven high-level officials -- we've got a graphic of some of them here [pictures of Tenet, Ashcroft and Ridge] -- it has to mean that something, some kind of memory knowledge is departing. Doesn't this make us more vulnerable?"
Clarke: "No, actually the memory and the knowledge is at the career civil service level and the politicians who come in at the top really rely on the people that we don't see that actually make these departments work...."

Tom Brokaw: "I Reflect the Sensibilities"
of Red & Blue States

NBC's Tom Brokaw On the morning of his last day as anchor of the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw contended on Imus in the Morning that he worked to make sure his viewers didn't "know what my personal beliefs were" and insisted that "I don't think I'm easily characterized. You know, I grew up in red-state America, but I live in blue-state America and I like to think that I reflect the sensibilities of both those places."

An exchange from the 6:30am EST half hour of the December 1 MSNBC simulcast of the Imus in the Morning radio show on which Brokaw appeared via telephone, as taken down by the MRC's Jessica Anderson:

Don Imus: "As you sat there and did the news over the years, what did you think was your responsibility to the audience in terms of them knowing what you were thinking?"
Brokaw: "I didn't think that they should know what my personal beliefs were. Now, from time to time, because of my interest in a variety of areas -- the American West, the middle part of the country, environmental issues -- and the attention that we would pay to those stories, I suspect that they would get some kind of an indication. But I felt very strongly, in the Walter Cronkite-David Brinkley mode, that what you have to do there is to be, first and foremost, a journalist at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. And I often, in the newsroom for example, take positions that are absolutely contrary to my personal beliefs just to provoke discussion and to make people look at the other side of things...."

Imus: "Walter Cronkite, a number of years after he'd retired, told somebody or revealed somewhere that he was or had been a liberal. Is that something you're going to do? I mean, not that you're a liberal."
Brokaw: "No, I'm not [referring to sharing his personal views]. I've thought about it. For one thing, I want to stay at NBC and do documentaries and continue to be a journalist and, you know, I have a big private side and I think my friends know how I feel about a number of issues, but I don't think I'm easily characterized. You know, I grew up in red-state America, but I live in blue-state America and I like to think that I reflect the sensibilities of both those places. It's been very helpful for me to understand red-state America, and by the way I even hesitate to use those characterizations because I think it's kind of an over-simplification."

As for Brokaw's understanding of red America, on Wednesday I distributed, as a CyberAlert Special, a Media Reality Check compiled in 2003 to mark Brokaw's 20th anniversary as anchor, "Marking Tom Brokaw's Twenty Years of Tilt; Anchor Boasted 'We've Worked Hard to Drain the Bias' but Viewers Still Swimming in Liberalism." For the rundown of many instances of Brokaw promoting liberal policies and showing disdain for conservatives, some illustrated with RealPlayer video clips, check the September 3, 2003 Media Reality Check: www.mediaresearch.org

MSNBC's Olbermann Insists: "I'm Not Political.
I Don't Vote"

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has spent the past month using his show to push baseless Internet rumors of vote fraud in a quest to undermine the credibility of President Bush's win accepted by everyone except Jesse Jackson, a few bloggers and himself. But in a Web interview posted on Tuesday, Olbermann maintained: "I'm not political. I don't vote -- I don't believe journalists covering politics should....I have no more interest in the political outcome of an election than I did in the winner or loser of any ballgame I ever covered." (Olbermann also boasted how Howard Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, "has been invaluable" in guiding MSNBC's blogging efforts.)

Nonetheless, Olbermann continued his favorite pursuit Wednesday night, teasing his lead item on Countdown: "John Kerry joins a lawsuit over the recount in Ohio. Is it a bold statement about counting every vote or a token's gesture just to quiet the activists?" He soon, the MRC's Brad Wilmouth noticed, asked Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood about the role of a guest whose cause he promoted the night before: "Was he pushed to any degree on this, do you suppose, and no pun is intended by the use of the word 'pushed,' was he pushed by Jesse Jackson's whirlwind tour of Ohio and Jackson throwing around the new F-word: fraud?"

Romenesko ( www.poynter.org ) on Wednesday highlighted the interview with the Online Journalism Review, an Annenberg-funded project at the University of Southern California. The favorable heading for the interview conducted by Mark Glaser: "On Air and Online, Olbermann Draws Attention to Voting Problems. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann uses wit and intellect in his new Weblog and on his show to cover the controversial voting-irregularities story that he says most major media haven't touched."

An excerpt:

OJR: How would you describe yourself politically on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum? How important do you think it is for MSM to be transparent on their political affiliations?

KO: I'm not political. I don't vote -- I don't believe journalists covering politics should (and I don't think the democracy would suffer if however many of us there are, recused ourselves). I have no more interest in the political outcome of an election than I did in the winner or loser of any ballgame I ever covered. I think transparency is vital; I think it's also, in these super-heated political times, unintentionally inescapable. If a reporter's work in turn winds up criticizing a candidate or party in some cases, and praising that same candidate or party in others, he's as close to neutral as he can be. If not, he's a partisan. The partisans outnumber the neutrals 1000:1.

OJR: Do you think MSNBC is more enlightened than other news organizations when it comes to blogging? Why or why not?

KO: Definitely. It's funny, because when we started, and I got here in the second year, we were trying to force MSM and the Web together without really knowing how, kind of like Bart Simpson trying to get the lizard and the gerbil to mate. But now that the system has developed organically, we're all over it. Joe Trippi has been invaluable in translating his experiences in the Dean campaign to journalism, and I've got to give our president, Rick Kaplan, a lot of credit. He's really pushed the idea, and with very effective results.

END of Excerpt

For the interview in full: 209.200.80.136

Check Olbermann's blog for his latest rants: www.bloggermann.msnbc.com

The December 1 CyberAlert recounted: A day after browbeating Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell for supposedly standing in the way of a recount which would prove fraud in the Buckeye state's presidential vote, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Tuesday compared Ohio with the situation in the Ukraine, an analogy he called "obvious," and then tossed softballs to Jesse Jackson which reflected Olbermann's presumption that Jackson is pursuing a worthwhile quest in pushing for a federal probe of the "fraud." Olbermann teased the segment: "U.S. citizens have as much reason as those in Kiev to be concerned that the fix was in. So writes Jesse Jackson today." A later plug, "Voting irregularities from Kiev to Cleveland: Reverend Jesse Jackson wants to know where's all the outrage here?" After complaining that, on his show the night before, Blackwell had "insulted" Jackson "on eight separate occasions," Olbermann turned to Jackson for wise counsel, wanting to know "why did he [Kerry] concede when he did" and pleading: "If there has been fraud, where are the Democrats in response to it?" See: www.mediaresearch.org

For a rundown of CyberAlert items on Olbermann's vote fraud obsession expressed on his shows during the week of November 8: www.mediaresearch.org

Kalb Admires Rather's "Inner Strength"
to Denounce Conservatives

CBS's Dan Rather You'd think those interested in improving journalism would be embarrassed by how Dan Rather impugned critics, of his hit job on George W. Bush, as politically-motivated hacks out to suppress the truth, when, in fact, they turned out to be correct about how he had used forged memos in his ideologically-driven smear. But in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Wednesday, Marvin Kalb, a former correspondent for CBS News and NBC News, saw the threat to journalism as coming from the right and praised Rather for assailing conservatives: "Television must deal with political pressures to conform to resurgent conservative values that appear to be stifling editorial courage in the newsroom. Rather had the inner strength recently to criticize 'these partisan, political ideological challenges.' Will his successor have similar courage?"

On the September 10 CBS Evening News, two nights after his fraudulent story aired, Rather charged: "Today, on the Internet and elsewhere, some people, including many who are partisan political operatives, concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story." See: www.mediaresearch.org

A few days later a defiant Rather told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "I don't back up. I don't back down. I don't cave when the pressure gets too great from these partisan political ideological forces." Rather argued to the New York Observer that "powerful and extremely well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the documents because they can't deny the fundamental truth of the story." Rather also equated the current situation to the "heat" CBS News took "during the McCarthy time." www.mediaresearch.org

An excerpt from the December 1 LA Times op-ed by Kalb, who for a few years, in the mid-1980s, served as moderator of Meet the Press, "Mad as Hell? Not at the Top." Kalb is now a Washington, DC-based Senior Fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press and Public Policy. The excerpt:

Once again, the face of American television news is changing. The older generation of anchormen is, after a quarter of a century, yielding to a younger generation.

Can this changing of the electronic guard offer any promise of better, more substantive coverage of our dangerous and unpredictable world? I am sorry to say the answer is almost certainly no.

Network news is hurtling toward irrelevance in the oddest way. Challenged by the competitive pressures of Internet blogs and 24/7 cable and radio talk shows, it still occasionally shows examples of brilliant and brave reporting, such as we recently saw in Fallouja.

But its more standard fare is a safe blend of hyped political confrontations, magical medical discoveries for viewers over 70, administration bromides about everything from "moral values" to the economy, and misleading trivialization of everyday life....

Now, as a new era dawns, we naturally worry about their successors. Not that they won't be capable; surely they will, just as Brokaw and Rather were. But talented as they may be, they will represent only cosmetic change, and they will face the same harsh challenges as their departing colleagues, with even fewer options for coping with them.

They know that in recent years, ratings have been falling steadily for all three networks, meaning profits have been dropping too. Since 1991, networks have experienced a 33% fall in their audience. CBS, which used to attract 12 million viewers every evening, now attracts only 7 million, and the competitive pressures from cable news and the blogosphere seem only to be growing.

On election night, the conservative Fox cable news channel pulled in a larger audience than NBC, the network leader -- the strongest indication yet that cable news and its blustery, right-tilting chatter have finally drawn even with the older networks in the ratings.

That creates a huge additional problem, more troublesome and insidious than all the others: Television must deal with political pressures to conform to resurgent conservative values that appear to be stifling editorial courage in the newsroom. Rather had the inner strength recently to criticize "these partisan, political ideological challenges."

Will his successor have similar courage?

Will the timid network executives have the old-fashioned backbone to take on a crusading administration?

I doubt it.

END of Excerpt

For the opinion piece in full: www.latimes.com

His Harvard bio: ksgfaculty.harvard.edu

For a picture of Kalb, on a page for his 2001 book, One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky and Thirteen Days that Tarnished American Journalism: www.ksg.harvard.edu


-- Brent Baker