2. Will Media Hold Kerry to Same Standard: No Vietnam in TV Ads?
The Bush campaign may have $100 million to spend, but the Kerry team has the news media as part of its base, a reality demonstrated on Thursday, a day John Kerry took off and didn't even campaign. Based on a single news story in the New York Daily News quoting a single firefighter and a few members of families with 9-11 victims, the morning and evening shows on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, as well as CNBC and MSNBC in prime time, picked up the charge that new Bush campaign TV ads, which very briefly show images from 9-11, somehow improperly exploit that day for political gain.
In the morning, Karen Hughes was quizzed about it and in the evening the supposed "controversy" led or was the number two story on every evening newscast.
ABC's Diane Sawyer, CBS's Harry Smith and CNN's Soledad O'Brien highlighted how the "firefighters union" protested the ad, but failed to point out how that union, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), long ago endorsed John Kerry. Sawyer asked Hughes on GMA, for instance: "The firefighters union says in a statement that it was a cheap trick to use even fleeting images of the real events of 9/11."
Kate Snow set up that GMA segment: "Using these 9/11 images is already drawing political fire from Senator John Kerry and outrage among some victims' families; 'a slap in the face,' says one widow, 'of the murders of 3,000 people.'"
Over on CBS's The Early Show, Harry Smith lectured Hughes: "But you know this is one of those things where images can make or break a candidate. Could this turn into another 'Mission Accomplished?'"
NBC's Katie Couric avoided distorting the firefighter's upset as something independent from the Kerry campaign, but Couric, like the other morning hosts, ignored the quotes in the New York Daily News from 9-11 victim family members who found the ads perfectly fine and quoted only from those who attacked the Bush campaign: "One September 11th widow told the Daily News this morning she was offended by the use of 9-11 images in these ads saying quote, 'After three thousand people were murdered on his watch it seems to me that takes an awful lot of audacity. Honestly, it's in poor taste.' What's your response to that?"
In the afternoon, on CNN's Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff refused to note the agenda of the IAFF as she intoned in leading into a soundbite from IAFF President Harry Schaitberger: "Two of the new Bush campaign ads include brief images of the World Trade Center ruins, and of firefighters. That's not sitting well with some firefighters, and relatives of 9/11 victims."
On screen during the 5pm EST Wolf Blitzer Reports on CNN: "Trading on Tragedy?"
By the evening, the network stories at least noted how the firefighters union had endorsed Kerry, but they nonetheless still quoted union chief's Shaitberger's attack on Bush despite the fact that the union's main agenda is a selfish quest for more federal spending for fire departments, a matter of a liberal-conservative split on the role of federal spending on tasks traditionally the responsibility of local governments. That didn't dissuade CBS's John Roberts: "The firefighters union, which backs John Kerry, wants them off the air, adding, 'President Bush has short-changed first responders on critically needed equipment and training.'"
Dan Rather set up that story: "President Bush today began running the first television advertisements of his re-election campaign, and already they are drawing heavy criticism, including some from families of 9/11 victims. Political opponents, 9/11 families, and others are accusing the President of doing something he insisted he would never do: Exploit a national tragedy for political gain." Roberts concluded it: "Some critics are calling the ads the height of election-year hypocrisy, pointing out that President Bush was quick to use 9/11 to build up his image. At the same time, he is refusing to cooperate fully with the commission investigating the attacks on America."
NBC's David Gregory reminded viewers how "this is not the first time Mr. Bush has been accused of using the 9-11 attack for political gain. In May of 2002 the White House was criticized for allowing congressional Republicans to use a picture of the President on Air Force One speaking to the Vice President just hours after the attacks on New York and Washington."
George Stephanopoulos, on ABC's World News Tonight, provided the most rationale look at the tempest as he pointed out how "you'll have to look very closely to see what all the fuss is about. Blink twice and you'll miss it." Stephanopoulos put the 9-11 scene time in the two ads combined at four seconds -- and that's probably on the high side.
Later Thursday night, on CNN's 8pm EST Paula Zahn Now, Zahn insisted the ads "outraged a lot of folks." Setting up a segment with a professor and followed by two Congressmen, one critical of the ads and one supportive of them, Zahn played an ad clip and then failed to identify the true pro-Kerry agenda of the union involved: "Glimpses of World Trade Center wreckage, as you just saw, and human remains being removed from the site, provoked outrage from the firefighters union and some victims' families."
Over on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann teased at the top of his 8pm EST program: "Quote: 'It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place.' Some firefighters, some families of the victims of 9-11 protesting President Bush's new campaign ad."
An hour later, MSNBC's Deborah Norville Tonight provided an interview segment with a two 9-11 widows, one opposed to the ad and one in favor of it, but the on-screen graphic visible throughout the session assumed the Bush team is in the wrong: "IS PRES. BUSH EXPLOITING 9/11?"
The topic also led CNN's 10pm EST NewsNight with Aaron Brown, but anchored by Anderson Cooper, as well as The News on CNBC.
The scenes in question in the two ads are very brief. In one, with moving music playing, text on screen reads: "A test for all Americans" followed by "Then...a day of tragedy." Under the latter, the ad shows a full screen of the WTC outer wall with a flag in front, then a scene of firefighters carrying a flag-draped casket takes over one-third of the screen on the right, and then the left image is replaced by a man raising flag outside of any 9-11 scene.
In the second ad, the announcer says: "Some challenges we've seen before. And some were like no others." During a portion of those words, for barely a second, viewers see a flag flying in front of the WTC building wall. Both ads have the images surround by fuzzy, fading in black borders, so the images are relatively small.
For some still shots of the seconds in question, check these Web pages:
(If you have a slow connection that jumps at all, you may very well not even see the scenes causing such upset since they are so brief.)
The Kerry campaign site lists the IAFF endorsement: www.johnkerry.com
"Fire Fighters Endorse Kerry For President" read the headline over an IAFF press release from last September when the union endorsed Kerry. The caption for a photo: "IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger and Senator John Kerry make announcement at Washington, D.C. press conference." See: www.iaff.org
For Schaitberger's statement, which complains about how Bush isn't spending enough federal money: www.iaff.org
"New Bush Ads Use FFs For Political Gains," read the headline over the IAFF's attack on the new Bush ads, the subhead for which showed the union's true agenda: "As Bush trades on heroism of fire fighters, his Homeland Security funding cuts hurt fire fighters and communities says IAFF General President Schaitberger." See: daily.iaff.org
The "furor" all started with this screaming front page headline in the March 4 New York Daily News: "Storm over Bush's 9/11 ad." An excerpt from the story by Maggie Haberman in New York and Thomas M. Defrank in Washington (online, "Storm" replaced by "Furor" in headline):
The Bush reelection campaign yesterday unveiled its first three campaign commercials showcasing Ground Zero images, angering some 9/11 families who accused President Bush of exploiting the tragedy for political advantage.
"It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people," said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin tower attacks. "It is unconscionable."
Gabrielle and several other family members said the injury was compounded by Bush's refusal to testify in open session before the 9/11 commission.
"I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty," said Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on doomed American Airlines Flight 11. "But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat."
Mindy Kleinberg said she was offended because the White House has not cooperated fully with the commission and because of the sight of remains being lifted out of Ground Zero in one of the spots.
"How heinous is that?" Kleinberg asked. "That's somebody's [loved one]."
Firefighter Tommy Fee in Rescue Squad 270 in Queens was appalled.
"It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics," Fee said.
But Jennie Farrell, who lost her brother, electrician James Cartier, called the ad "tastefully done," adding: "It speaks to the truth of the times. Sept. 11 ... was something beyond the realm of imagination, and George Bush ... led us through one of the darkest moments in history."...
END of Excerpt
For the story in full: www.nydailynews.com
Okay, that's my lengthy overview of March 4 coverage. Below, a near-complete rundown of the morning show questions to Hughes and evening newscast coverage of the supposed controversy:
-- ABC's Good Morning America, as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
Diane Sawyer: "Now we're going to tell you what all the fuss is about in the President's new ad campaign. And to launch our coverage, here's ABC's Kate Snow. She's at the White House this morning. Good morning, Kate."
# "A wave of reaction this morning. The Kerry camp calls the ad astonishing, the firefighters union says in a statement that it was a cheap trick to use even fleeting images of the real events of 9/11 and we have some wives, some of those who are widowed by those at Ground Zero saying that they, too, felt that this was, that this should not have been done. Your reaction?"
# "But I think some of the widows have said that, alright, use perhaps some suggestive images, but don't use the actual ones that evoke such emotional reactions from them, even fleetingly. Was there any debate inside the team about doing this?"
-- CBS's The Early Show, as transcribed by the MRC's Brian Boyd. Harry Smith: "As we noted President Bush has officially kicked off his re-election campaign. His first television ads will hit the airwaves in 17 potential swing states starting today. Karen Hughes his former Counselor to the President, now an advisor to the Bush campaign and she joins us from Texas this morning. Good morning, good to see you again."
# "I'll tell you what, there's a little storm cloud brewing already. I'm going to show you the cover of the New York Daily News today, 'Storm Over Bush 9/11 Ad.' And already the controversy has begun. The firefighters' union says because there are pictures of 9/11 and firefighters involved, they're lodging a protest. One of the women whose husband was killed in 9/11 said and I quote, 'After 3,000 people were murdered on his watch it seems to me that it takes an awful lot of audacity. Honestly, it's in poor taste.' You want to respond to the reaction to these ads already?"
# "But you know this is one of those things where images can make or break a candidate. Could this turn into another 'Mission Accomplished?'"
# "You bring up a good point. We see the First Lady in these ads now. Up until now her role in the White House has been sort of apolitical or politics free. Is this a calculated shift on your part?"
# "Speaking of family, you left the White House to spend more time with your family. Some people say that the President's image and message have suffered since you've left. Have you considered going back to work full time?"
-- NBC's Today, as observed by MRC analyst Geoff Dickens. Katie Couric: "On Close Up this morning the Bush/Cheney advertising blitz starting today. Karen Hughes is a Bush campaign advisor and former counselor to the President. Karen Hughes, good morning, thanks for joining us."
# Couric: "I know these ads will start running today on national cable stations and also in select local markets including Spanish language television. What are they designed to say about President Bush?"
# Couric: "Two of them refer to the September 11th attacks and one September 11th widow told the Daily News this morning she was offended by the use of 9-11 images in these ads saying quote, 'After 3000 people were murdered on his watch it seems to me that takes an awful lot of audacity. Honestly, it's in poor taste.' What's your response to that?"
# Couric: "Let's talk about the next series of ads. Will there be another series that specifically targets John Kerry and when will they start to run?"
# Couric: "I know that, speaking of Iraq and Afghanistan in the series of ads that emphasizes President Bush's steady leadership and the fact that the world is safer, this country is safer and stronger, Iraq is never mentioned. Why is that?"
# Couric: "In exit polls that NBC took in Ohio after the primary there on Tuesday voters were asked what their most important issue was. Here's what they had to say. By far 42 percent said it was the economy. And some analysts are saying this is an excellent bellwether state, it's this year's Florida according to, this election's Florida, according to Tim Russert. And by conservative estimates, Karen, the economy has lost 2.3 million jobs since President Bush took office. Ohio, itself, has lost 250,000 jobs. The economy has added jobs but only at a rate of about 100,000 a month. How do you feel the President can best convince the American people that the economy is in fact strong and getting stronger if it's still on the forefront of people's minds?"
-- CNN's American Morning. Soledad O'Brien to Hughes: "There is word in some local papers here in New York City that says that some of the family members of victims of 9/11 are 'furious' -- that's a quote -- about the way these ads have come across. Also there are members of the firefighters union who say that they are unhappy with the one-second image of firefighters in that ad as well. Do you think in retrospect maybe that was a mistake?"
O'Brien later asked: "We only have a few seconds left, and I want to get a final question to you. The DNC chairman is not quite as optimistic as you paint your picture. He says these ads are expected to reference the president's steady leadership as president, but they would be remiss to leave out some steady facts when it comes to his leadership, a steady loss of jobs, a steady increase in the uninsured Americans, a state of decline in education funding. How do you respond to that?"
-- Hughes got no escape on FNC's Fox & Friends, the MRC's Amanda Monson noticed. Juliet Huddy told her: "You've also heard, I'm sure by now, about some of the outcry about these 9/11 ads, specifically the ones that are showing the images of 9/11 and the World Trade Center, so on and so forth. Some people say it's exploitive, what do you say to that?"
Steve Doocy followed up: "Talking a little bit about these ads and there are three of them out and one is a Spanish language version as well. There has been some criticism, can't believe, as Juliet mentioned, that he would include the 9/11 images. But you guys thought about that and you wondered whether or not people would criticize you. Behind the scenes, how much conversation was there about how much flak would we take off of this?"
-- CNN's Inside Politics, as caught by the MRC's Ken Shepherd. Judy Woodruff led her hour: "Bush campaign officials now say they are spending in the $10 million range on their first ad buy, which begins airing nationwide today. That is more than double the price tag originally reported. As it turns out, though, the ads may cost the President in another way, the sponsor being seized on by critics who accuse Mr. Bush of using the September 11th attacks for political gain."
After her taped piece concluded, Woodruff added what should have undermined the day's media agenda: "But we also want to note that many 9/11 families apparently support the President, and apparently are comfortable with his new ad campaign. The New York Post quotes one woman who lost her brother in the attacks as saying that the ad is 'tastefully done,' and quote, 'speaks to the truth of the times,' end quote."
-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather in the opening tease: "Tonight, President Bush under fire: Accused of exploiting 9/11. We'll show you the campaign ads critics are demanding he pull."
Rather led his broadcast, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "Good evening. President Bush today began running the first television advertisements of his re-election campaign, and already they are drawing heavy criticism, including some from families of 9/11 victims. Political opponents, 9/11 families, and others are accusing the President of doing something he insisted he would never do: Exploit a national tragedy for political gain. CBS's John Roberts is traveling with the President and reports tonight on the image and substance of this campaign controversy."
Roberts began, from California: "It was a hard-charging candidate Bush in California today, aiming to deny Democrats their Pacific prize, leveling sharp attacks against his newly-named challenger."
In the next story, Sharyl Attkisson highlighted how "there's a secret weapon Democrats are using that could prove to be Kerry's great equalizer." But she was talking about 527 groups, not the news media.
-- NBC Nightly News. David Gregory in California: "On the stump in California today, the President didn't shy away from invoking the 9/11 attacks as he described America still feeling the shock of that day."
-- ABC's World News Tonight offered a more circumspect take. Peter Jennings teased up top: "On World News Tonight, presidential politics and national tragedy. A legitimate part of the record or exploitation? The campaign's first confrontation."
After a John Cochran story on Bush in California, Jennings turned to George
Stephanopoulos: "President Bush's reelection campaign has been condemned in some places today and praised in others for a very short sequence in some of its television ads which went on the air today. It shows a little aftermath of 9/11. The Bush campaign says it is trying to point out the President's leadership on and after 9/11. ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports on an argument that has something of a partisan edge."
Nikki Stern, family member: "Feels like the deaths of our loved ones are being used for political purposes."
So, given the news media's standard that any fleeting scenes of a day when 3,000 Americans were killed is inappropriate exploitation, can we expect the media to apply the same standard to John Kerry in the future about Vietnam where more than 50,000 Americans were killed? Kerry's primary campaign has already showcased video of him in Vietnam, video a 1996 Boston Globe revelation suggests may have been from a staged re-enactment conducted by Kerry.
On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume on Thursday, the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes mockingly quipped about any Kerry use of Vietnam: "'57,000 Americans died there. How could he be so hypocritical to demean them by using them in an ad?' That's what you could argue. Of course it's preposterous just as it's preposterous these claims that are made by critics of Bush."
Back on February 27, OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web" column by James Taranto picked up on how in a column The Hill newspaper, a paper which covers Capitol Hill, National Review's Byron York reported that "there is a movie about Kerry's Vietnam experience, produced and directed by John Kerry." York described a 1996 report in the Boston Globe:
For the February 27 "Best of the Web" column: www.opinionjournal.com
For York's piece in the February 26 edition of The Hill: www.thehill.com
-- Brent Baker