2. ABC Paints Clarke as Victim of "Ferocious and Personal Attacks"
3. Stahl Concedes Negative Viewer Feedback to Promoting Clarke
4. Reporters Laughed But Now Condemn Bush for WMD Jokes at Dinner
5. CBS: "Truth Be Told" Bush and Kerry Both "Favor Tax Cuts"
Corrections: The March 26 CyberAlert referred to Sandy Berger as the "former Secretary of State." He's the former National Security Adviser. The same issue suggested that CBS News had found "six more hours of Richard Clarke contradicting himself" since, while ABC News had reported that Clarke didn't make his anti-Bush points in 22 hours of private testimony to the 9-11 commission, CBS's Bill Plante pegged the private testimony as lasting 22 hours. The difference between 14 and 22 is eight, not six.
The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt declared on CNN's Capital Gang that Dick "Clarke dealt a lethal blow against what is the central rationale for George Bush's re-election," that "I'm tough on terrorism."
During the opening segment of the March 27 CNN show, the Executive Washington Editor of the Wall Street Journal conveyed how impressed he was with Clarke's claims:
Though Dick Clarke struck first, much of the media continue to paint him as the victim of counter-attacks by operatives for the White House. On Friday night, for instance, ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas noted how "Democrats and Republicans have spent the week locked in an angry battle of blame, exchanging ugly accusations of deceit." But, she bemoaned, "the acrimony reached an entirely new level today" as "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attacked the character and credibility of former White House aide Richard Clarke."
Reporter Linda Douglass described Frist's comments as "one of the most ferocious and personal attacks yet," before Douglass highlighted how "the Senate's Democratic leader said Frist's broadside is part of a pattern." Viewers then heard from Tom Daschle: "Well, I think it's just very unfortunate that the Republican attack machine is prepared to tear a man's character down for telling the truth." As a further authority on how Clarke's past testimony before a congressional probe matched up with what he now says, Douglass turned to Senator Bob Graham: "The former Chairman of the congressional committee says Clarke's testimony was not inconsistent with what he told the 9/11 Commission."
The NBC Nightly News on Friday night, however, did not treat Clarke as the victim and instead simply reported what he was accused of doing. Anchor Brian Williams teased: "Under oath. Did he lie? Republicans in Congress want to compare Richard Clarke's explosive charges this week with secret testimony he gave in the past."
Williams opened the March 26 newscast: "Good evening. Richard Clarke tells an explosive story. It's in his new book, which is already hard to find in Washington. It was in his testimony this week to the commission investigating 9-11. But tonight the former White House anti-terrorism chief is under fire. Some prominent Republicans are saying Richard Clarke is telling two stories and they don't match. The man who turned up the heat on the President is now feeling the heat himself."
Back to ABC, Vargas teased up top: "On World News Tonight, the escalating war of words over 9-11. Now the Senate Majority Leader accuses Richard Clarke of exploiting a tragedy."
Vargas led the program, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening. We begin tonight with the furious battle over 9/11. Democrats and Republicans have spent the week locked in an angry battle of blame, exchanging ugly accusations of deceit. But the acrimony reached an entirely new level today. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attacked the character and credibility of former White House aide Richard Clarke. Here is ABC's Linda Douglass."
Up next, ABC ran a shorter and milder look at Democratic attacks on Condoleezza Rice.
Vargas set it up: "The Democrats today turned up the heat on President Bush's National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice. She has played a big role in defending the White House from Clarke's criticism. ABC's Terry Moran joins us now from the White House. Terry, Democrats were quite aggressive today as well."
60 Minutes conceded on Sunday night that most of the reaction it received, to Lesley Stahl's two-parter a week earlier promoting Dick Clarke's new book and his attacks on the Bush administration, was negative and questioning of CBS's motives -- a bias re-enforced just minutes earlier when Ed Bradley delivered an interview with Condoleezza Rice that was far more hostile than how Stahl had treated Clarke.
Bradley lectured Rice about how there "there have been more attacks by al-Qaeda" since 9-11 "than in the 30 months prior to 9-11" and how in Iraq "nearly 600 American soldiers had died, thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed," yet "no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and there's no proof that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 or al-Qaeda..."
At the end of the March 28 broadcast, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brian Boyd, Stahl recounted the reaction to her March 21 session with Clarke: "As you probably guessed, we got a lot of email, a lot of it, about the interview I did with President Bush's former terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke. I'd like to say it was about evenly divided, but it wasn't. Most of it was like this one [ellipses as in text on screen]:"
Stahl: "And this one:"
Stahl moved on to one that was just a bit over the top: "Also one from a viewer who said:"
Stahl: "But we also heard from a viewer who said:"
Stahl: "About an issue that's become a cause-celeb of those who found a hidden motive in our interview. There were a lot of letters like this one:"
Stahl: "Because, Mr. Schramm, when we lined up the interview with Mr. Clarke months ago, he hadn't yet found a publisher. Having said that, let me also say that considering the nature of the Clarke book, I should have mentioned that his publisher was a company owned by the same people who own CBS. That I didn't was plainly and simply an oversight."
To follow up on Clarke's charges and reaction to it during the week, 60 Minutes brought aboard Condoleezza Rice. But instead of outlining all of the contradictions uncovered about Clarke, Bradley pounded away at Rice and the Bush policy. Two representative questions/statements posed by Bradley to Rice:
-- "We've had this war on terrorism since -- concentrated, since 9/11. But it's been reported that if you look at the 30 months since 9/11, there have been more attacks by al Qaeda than in the 30 months prior to 9/11. So, what effect is this taking out two-thirds of their leadership?"
-- "The decision to go to war with Iraq: Nearly 600 American soldiers had died, thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. Given the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and there's no proof that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 or al Qaeda, the country is split about why we're even in Iraq and if we're fighting the right war."
A rising media chorus scolding President Bush for joking about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At last Wednesday's Radio and Television Correspondents dinner, President Bush, as all Presidents must do, offered some self-deprecatory humor. To loud laughter from the assembled journalists, Bush showed funny pictures of himself bending over to look around furniture in the Oval Office as he made quips like, "nope, no weapons over there!"
The next morning's Washington Post story led with the attendance of Donald Trump at the dinner and didn't get to Bush's WMD jokes until the 11th paragraph -- and that was the fourth paragraph of reporter Jennifer Frey's recitation of Bush's jokes. For the March 25 Washington Post story: www.washingtonpost.com
At Thursday's Pentagon briefing, CNN's Barbara Starr demanded of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld: "My question, really, truly in all seriousness, is -- both for the President, with respect, and for the news media -- is it appropriate to make a joke -- seriously, sirs -- about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, when both of you, of course, were involved in the difficult issue of sending troops to war for that hunt? And did the news media also blow it by sitting there and laughing? Did we blow it last night?"
Thursday night on MSNBC's Hardball, Chris Matthews inquired of Newsweek's Howard Fineman: "I wonder if, after spending a day at Walter Reed Hospital the other day where the other guys who had limbs amputated and brain injuries and things like that how funny they think it is that the reason they were given for fighting this war is now the butt of humor by the Commander-in-Chief?"
ABC's Charles Gibson on Friday led Good Morning America with the supposed controversy as he stressed how Democrats are "saying he cheapens the reason that he called people to war." CBS anchor John Roberts teased Friday's CBS Evening News: "Weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office? Some are not amused by the President's joke about the war in Iraq." CBS's Lee Cowan acknowledged that "it got a laugh from some in the media and other politicians, too" but, he warned, "for some military families, the President's punch line was more like a punch in the stomach."
Now, a further rundown of the four quotes cited above:
-- CNN's Barbara Starr at the March 25 Pentagon briefing, at about 2:30pm EST, as caught by the MRC's Ken Shepherd.
Starr: "I wanted to go back for a minute, if I might -- for both of you -- to the question of the seriousness of Iraq. And I want to stipulate to two things. We understand and we know that neither of you gentlemen were at the Radio-Television Correspondents Dinner last night here in Washington where the President spoke. I also want to say that I am specifically asking you this question -- it's difficult to ask, but with all respect to the Office of the President. And I brought the transcript with me. And it goes to the point of whether Iraq is really a serious matter or not. The President made some remarks in a humorous fashion, and he showed some pictures there which most of us there saw. And he made some jokes about the hunt for the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And he said, quoting from the transcript, showing a picture, 'Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.' And then there was, in fact, laughter and applause from the audience. And then he showed another picture: 'No, no weapons over there.' Laughter and applause. Another picture: 'Maybe under here.' Laughter.
-- MSNBC's Hardball, March 25, as caught by MRC analyst Geoff Dickens.
Chris Matthews: "I wonder if, after spending a day at Walter Reed Hospital the other day where the other guys who had limbs amputated and brain injuries and things like that how funny they think it is that the reason they were given for fighting this war is now the butt of humor by the Commander-in-Chief?"
-- ABC's Good Morning America, March 26. Charles Gibson, the MRC's Jessica Anderson noticed, opened with a plethora of troubles for Bush:
Gibson set up the subsequent session with the party chairs: "As we've been reporting, there are a lot of big political issues down in Washington, many of them causing controversy right now: Condoleezza Rice, you heard about that in the news; the President's jokes, also drawing comment; 9/11 issues. And so joining us now from Washington, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie, and I appreciate both of you being with us. And I just want to raise these issues and get each of you to comment briefly on them because there are a lot of political issues percolating. Number one, 9/11 issues and Ed, let me start with you. Forty-two percent of the people in a recent poll say they are very familiar with Richard Clarke's charges against the administration. Forty-seven percent say they know the charges generally. That's a total of ninety-one percent. The President have a real political problem?"
Gibson soon got to the jokes: "Let me go to the issue that we mentioned at the top of the show, the President joking about weapons of mass destruction, his comments at a dinner the other night....Ed Gillespie, the Democrats saying he cheapens the reason that he called people to war."
Gibson turned to McAuliffe: "Terry McAuliffe, we do always laugh at those dinners, joke at those dinners in Washington."
-- CBS Evening News on Friday. Anchor John Roberts teased up top, as if the jokes were a key news item of the day: "Weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office? Some are not amused by the President's joke about the war in Iraq."
Before an ad break, Roberts plugged the upcoming story: "Coming up next on tonight's CBS Evening News, it was supposed to be an evening of political humor, but did the President's joke about weapons of mass destruction backfire? We'll give you the 'Inside Story.'"
Setting up the piece, Roberts asserted: "There's no argument that war is hell, but can it also be humorous? That is the latest debate raging in the nation's capital and elsewhere after President Bush spoofed the hunt for weapons of mass destruction at a big Washington dinner earlier this week. Was it a harmless punch line or poor taste? Correspondent Lee Cowan has the 'Inside Story.'"
Cowan played some video of Bush telling his jokes about non-WMD subjects before he cautioned: "But some say the President's self-deprecating slide show went too far when he made a joke about the war."
Viewers saw video of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi laughing at Bush's jokes, but Cowan relayed how Pelosi, "who laughed at time, later said she was just being polite." In a soundbite, Pelosi declared: "I really don't think it's funny."
Cowan showed Rumsfeld being asked about it by CNN's Starr, but moved on to relay how "on conservative talk radio today, one soldier's family suggested everybody just lighten up." Viewers then saw a clip from the Mark Davis Show on WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas.
Cowan then had Howard Kurtz note how the controversy has "perculated up" the media food chain and that Presidents realize there is a danger their humor could offend some. Cowan supported that reality: "A risk that wasn't lost on the President who ended his routine with a tribute to the troops."
"Truth be told," CBS's Byron Pitts contended Friday night of George W. Bush and John Kerry, "both men favor tax cuts." To draw such a conclusion, Pitts failed to take into account how Kerry wants to raise income taxes on many and has a long record of opposing tax cuts and voting for tax hikes. In fact, in summarizing Kerry's tax proposals announced earlier in the day, Pitts conveyed no evidence that Kerry plans to cut taxes for individuals: "Today he unveiled this plan to cut corporate taxes by five percent, create new tax breaks for small businesses, eliminate tax loopholes, and create incentives to keep companies from sending jobs overseas."
Anchor John Roberts set up the March 26 CBS Evening News story: "In the presidential campaign today, both President Bush and his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, trumpeted their plans for jobs and the economy. And, as Byron Pitts reports, they also razzed one another on the same subjects."
Pitts went on to show a clip of an anti-Bush ad, produced by The Media Fund, which accuses Bush of raiding Social Security to pay for a tax cut for millionaires.
Turning to Bush, Pitts relayed: "President Bush painted a different economic picture as he announced a new housing relief plan in Albuquerque. [clip of Bush] Mr. Bush argues it was 9/11, the war on terrorism that's hurt the U.S. economy, not his tax cuts. [clip of Bush] The Bush campaign has attacked Kerry's plan to eliminate tax cuts for Americans who make more than $200,000 per year."
Pitts played a clip of a Bush campaign ad which accuses Kerry of wanting to raise taxes.
Pitts then concluded by pretending both candidates are basically the same of the subject of tax cuts: "Truth be told, both men favor tax cuts. The choice for American voters next fall: How much to cut taxes and for whom? Byron Pitts, CBS News, New York."
# "Richard Clarke and Jennifer Beals!" That's how the Web page for Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart plugs the combo of guests scheduled for Monday night, March 29. www.comedycentral.com
-- Brent Baker