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CBS and NBC Spike, CNN Forgets, Putin Disclosure of Iraq Threat --6/21/2004


1. CBS and NBC Spike, CNN Forgets, Putin Disclosure of Iraq Threat
At a press conference on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin disclosed that "after Sept. 11, 2001...the Russian Special Services" passed along to the U.S. how it had "received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States..." Friday's CBS Evening News didn't mention Putin's revelation even though it devoted over two minutes to the debate over any Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship. Dan Rather found more newsworthy how Bill Clinton, in one of "the more compelling passages" in his new book, claimed to have warned President-elect Bush about Osama bin laden, but Bush didn't care. NBC Nighty News skipped Putin and instead dedicated a story to undermining President Bush's contention that Musab Abu al-Zarqawi's is linked to al-Qaeda. Of the broadcast networks on Friday night, only ABC found Putin newsworthy. On CNN, American Morning jumped on Putin's revelation, but by the evening CNN had moved on. CBS's Saturday Early Show skipped Putin and NBC's Today didn't get to Putin until the last news update, after audio clips from Clinton's book and how he warned an apathetic Bush about terrorism, and an interview session with Harry Thomason about The Hunting of the President, which Campbell Brown described as a film about "the case that there was a well-funded right-wing conspiracy to destroy the President and First Lady Hillary Clinton."

2. NBC Disputes Bush on Zarqawi Tie to al-Qaeda, But NBC Said So
Friday's NBC Nightly News devoted a story to undermining President Bush's contention that the presence of terrorist Musab Abu al-Zarqawi in Iraq long before the U.S. invasion is "evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Jim Miklaszewski highlighted how "U.S. military officials tell NBC News, despite sporadic contact in recent years, Zarqawi is now working against al-Qaeda in an effort to establish himself as the top Islamic terrorist in the region." But maybe Bush watches and believes the NBC Nightly News, which has repeatedly run stories linking Zarqawi to al-Qaeda, as recently as the night before Miklaszewski's piece. In May, a NBC News reporter described Zarqawi as "Osama bin Laden's top commander in Iraq."

3. Madonna: Bush and Hussein "Alike" in Wanting "World Domination"
George Bush and Saddam Hussein are a lot "alike." Singer/actress "Madonna," who now wants to be known as "Esther," argued in an interview shown on Friday's 20/20 on ABC, that George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein "both have very equally narrow views about how to solve problems and it is all about power, the struggle for oil and the struggle for world domination," thus they "are both behaving in an irresponsible manner, so in that respect, they're alike."


Correction: The June 18 CyberAlert misstated the location of a New York Times story, reporting that "after topping its front page Thursday with a story headlined, 'Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Plot Tie,' a Friday story on an inside page, 'Bush and Cheney Talk Strongly of Qaeda Links With Hussein,' skipped Hamilton's remarks." In fact, that Friday story appeared in the bottom right corner of the front page.

CBS and NBC Spike, CNN Forgets, Putin
Disclosure of Iraq Threat

Putin's revelation spiked by CBS and NBC, quickly forgotten by CNN, given little prominence by the Washington Post and New York Times. At a press conference in Kazakhstan Friday morning EDT time, Russian President Vladimir Putin disclosed that "after Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian Special Services" passed along to the U.S. how it has "received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States..."

Friday's CBS Evening News didn't mention Putin's revelation even though it devoted over two minutes to a piece by Bill Plante about how "the Bush administration is engaged in a furious dispute over whether there was, in fact, credible evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda." Plante, who failed to inform CBS viewers on Thursday night how the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the 9-11 Commission didn't see any discrepancy between what the commission determined about the relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq and what Bush officials had asserted, found time to showcase Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer disputing the Bush administration: "9-11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer says meetings and contacts don't make a relationship." Roemer opined: "Is there a dance in '94 with a meeting? Yes. Does it result in a dangerous liaison and collaboration and cooperation leading up to 9-11? No."

Of course, Bush officials never suggested Saddam Hussein or Iraqi involvement in 9-11.

Dan Rather also found more newsworthy than Putin how Bill Clinton, in one of "the more compelling passages" in his new book, claimed to have warned President-elect Bush about Osama bin laden, but Bush didn't care. Rather touted how "Bill Clinton recounts a meeting with then President-elect George W. Bush. The former President says he warned Mr. Bush that the biggest threat to the nation's security was Osama Bin-Laden and al Qaeda. According to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush said little in response, and then switched subjects."

NBC Nighty News on Friday skipped Putin. Instead, the program dedicated a story undermining President Bush's contention that al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Musab Abu al-Zarqawi's presence in Iraq is "the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda." Jim Miklaszewski contended that "despite sporadic contact in recent years, Zarqawi is now working against al-Qaeda in an effort to establish himself as the top Islamic terrorist in the region." How would Bush have gotten the idea that Zarqawi is affiliated with bin Laden? Maybe he watches NBC Nightly News, which has repeatedly made the link. Just 24 hours before Miklaszewski's story aired, NBC reporter David Gregory referred to "al-Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." (See item #2 below for more examples and for the full transcript of Miklaszewski's story.)

Of the broadcast networks on Friday night, only ABC found Putin newsworthy. On World News Tonight, Terry Moran began a story: "President Putin's statements come at just the right time for the White House, appearing to bolster the President's arguments on the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein."

On CNN on Friday, Moscow-based Jill Dougherty broke into American Morning in the 7am EDT hour with a report on Putin's revelation, and CNN cited Putin in news updates during the afternoon, such as on Wolf Blitzer Reports, but by the evening CNN had moved on, as evidenced by how the 10pm EDT NewsNight with Aaron Brown didn't mention Putin. And it wasn't as if they didn't have time for news beyond the beheading of Paul Johnson by al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. NewsNight featured an interview segment about Catholic church abuse, a story on the 40-year-old unsolved murder case in Mississippi of the three civil rights workers and a look at an exhibit of photos taken by Anne Frank's father, not to mention Brown's every Friday end of the program look at headlines in the "tabloid" papers: National Enquirer, Weekly World News etc.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who on Thursday night had mocked George Bush's "parsing" of words and compared it to Bill Clinton, on Friday's Countdown read the Putin quote, but then tried to undermine it by sarcastically adding: "Those would be the same Special Services in Russia who did such a bang-up job when a theater in Moscow was seized by Chechen terrorists for three days in 2002. A senior State Department official says of Mr. Putin's remarks, it's not aware of any such information being relayed to the United States. Quoting her, 'we're all scratching our heads' unquote."

With "Parsing the Parsing" on screen, Olbermann went on to play past clips of President Bush which he contended showed his inconsistencies in talking about an al-Qaeda-Iraq connection, and then he brought aboard Time magazine's liberal Margaret Carlson to discuss the weakness of the Bush administration's case in the face of the more credible 9-11 Commission.

Jumping ahead to Saturday morning, CBS's Saturday Early Show skipped the Putin revelation (at least in first 90 minutes that I saw), but they did make room, in the first half hour of the two-hour show, for a Byron Pitts piece on speculation over who John Kerry will pick for his VP.

Over on NBC's Today, in a shortened 90 minute edition which ran from 7:30 to 9am EDT, the program didn't get to Putin until the 8:30am news update, and that emphasized how the State Department didn't know anything about Putin's warning. In the first news update of the show, however, news reader Maria Bartiromo announced that "the top lawyer at the Bush White House has been interviewed by a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Alberto Gonzales was questioned Friday. Vice President Dick Cheney has also spoken with the grand jury and President Bush has indicated he expects to be questioned."

Before getting to Putin, Today ran a story by Rosiland Jordan with audio excerpts of Bill Clinton reading passages from his book in which he talked about meeting President Kennedy and how Martin Luther King inspired him. Jordan highlighted how "on terrorism, Clinton says President-elect Bush changed the subject when Clinton told him Osama bin laden posed the biggest threat to U.S. security."

And before viewers heard Putin's name Today also aired an interview session by Campbell Brown with Harry Thomason about his movie, The Hunting of the President, which Brown described as a movie which "tries to make the case that there was a well-funded right-wing conspiracy to destroy the President and First Lady Hillary Clinton."

After all of that, Bartiromo squeezed in this item at 8:30am: "State Department officials say they know nothing about warnings from Russian President Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. Putin says he supplied President Bush with information suggesting Iraq was preparing terrorist attacks the United States. Putin says the warnings did not change his opposition to the war."

On the print side, the Washington Post put Putin on the bottom half of page A-11, under the headline: "Russia Warned U.S. About Iraq, Putin Says." See: www.washingtonpost.com

"Putin Says U.S. Was Alerted to Possible Attacks by Iraq," read the New York Times headline for its Saturday story. See: www.nytimes.com

(I haven't seen a hard copy of the Saturday New York Times, but that story does not appear in the posted list of page one articles, so I assume it ran somewhere inside.)

"Putin Says Russia Gave U.S. Intel on Iraq," the AP headlined its Friday dispatch from a reporter who attended Putin's press briefing. An excerpt from the top of Bagila Bukharbayeva's (try saying that five times fast, or properly pronouncing it just once), report datelined Astana, Kazakhstan, which also pointed out how Putin said opponents of Bush's Iraq policy lack the "moral right" to criticize him if they backed Clinton's unilateral policy in Yugoslavia:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday his government warned Washington that Saddam Hussein's regime was preparing attacks in the United States and its interests abroad -- an assertion that appears to bolster President Bush's contention that Iraq was a threat.

Putin emphasized that the intelligence didn't cause Russia to waver from its firm opposition to the U.S.-led war last year, but his statement was the second this month in which he has offered at least some support for Bush on Iraq.

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services...received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," Putin said.

"Despite that information...Russia's position on Iraq remains unchanged," he said in the Kazakh capital, Astana, after regional economic and security summits. He said Russia didn't have any information that Saddam's regime had actually been behind any terrorist acts.

"It's one thing to have information that Saddam's regime is preparing terrorist attacks, (but) we didn't have information that it was involved in any known terrorist attacks," he said.

Putin didn't elaborate on any details of the alleged plots or mention whether they were tied to al-Qaeda. He said Bush had personally thanked one of the leaders of Russia's intelligence agencies for the information but that he couldn't comment on how critical it was in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq....

In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Putin sharply rebuked the United States for going to war despite opposition within the U.N. Security Council and said the threat posed to international security by the war was greater than that posed by Saddam.

But Put in's relationship with Bush is warm by the accounts of both leaders, and last week he said he has no patience for those who criticize Bush on Iraq.

"I don't pay attention to such publications," Putin said of media criticism of Bush at the end of the Group of Eight summit in the United States, according to the ITA-Tass news agency.

Putin said opponents who criticize Bush on Iraq "don't have any kind of moral right....They conducted exactly the same kind of policy in Yugoslavia."

Russia vehemently opposed the NATO bombing attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999, which the United States pushed for under President Clinton.

END of Excerpt

The AP story in full: story.news.yahoo.com

Now, a full rundown of the Friday night, June 18, CBS and ABC stories.

-- CBS Evening News. Dan Rather announced: "The debate goes on over what, if any, connection there was between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and what the independent 9-11 Commission and the Bush administration did and did not say about it. President Bush insisted again today that the Saddam regime was tied to terrorists."

Bill Plante began his story: "From the President down, the Bush administration is engaged in a furious dispute over whether there was, in fact, credible evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Before cheering troops at Fort Lewis, Washington today, the President cast the war in Iraq as a blow against a regime which sheltered and aided terrorists before and after the U.S. led war and as part of an ongoing struggle which began on September 11th."
Bush, in speech to troops: "On that day the enemy declared war on the United States of America and war is what they got."
Plante: "The Vice President, who has long suggested ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, continues to insist that lack of proof of a link between Iraq and 9-11 doesn't mean there was no connection."
Cheney on CNBC on Thursday: "The notion that you can take one paragraph from the 9-11 Commission and say ah, therefore that says there never was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is just wrong. It's not true."
Plante: "The administration and the campaign sent out faxes and e-mails arguing there were, in fact, connections -- including an opinion piece by Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley [in USA Today]. He argues that the commission report documents the ties, listing Iraqi contacts with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and quoting the report: 'Contacts...also occurred after bin Laden was returned to Afghanistan.' But Hadley omits the rest of the sentence, which reads, 'But they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.' 9-11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer says meetings and contacts don't make a relationship."
Timothy Roemer, 9-11 Commission: "Is there a dance in '94 with a meeting? Yes. Does it result in a dangerous liaison and collaboration and cooperation leading up to 9-11? No."
Plante concluded: Cooperation between al-Qaeda and Iraq was one of the main arguments for the war and with its credibility at stake the White House is determined to prove that it existed."

For Hadley's "Opposing View" opinion piece in the June 18 USA Today: www.usatoday.com

Speaking of sentences omitted, CBS Evening News viewers have yet to hear either of these comments from 9-11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean or Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton made at a Thursday press conference:

Kean: "Were there contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq? Yes. Some of them are shadowy, but there's no question they were there."

Hamilton: "I must say I have trouble understanding the flap over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that."
And: "So it seems to me that the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me."

The CBS Evening News had no time for that, but Rather did find newsworthy how Clinton supposedly warned Bush about bin Laden:
"Former President Bill Clinton's memoir My Life is not due out until Tuesday, but the Associated Press says it got a copy of it and reported today some of what the AP says is in it, without directly quoting from the book. One of the more important sections of the book, dealing with al Qaeda, is the focus of the Associated Press report and it's tonight's Inside Story.
Over video of Bush and Clinton shaking hands by south lawn driveway WH door: "The Associated Press reports that, in one of the more compelling passages of the book, Bill Clinton recounts a meeting with then President-elect George W. Bush. The former President says he warned Mr. Bush that the biggest threat to the nation's security was Osama Bin-Laden and al Qaeda. According to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush said little in response, and then switched subjects."

-- ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas reported: "To Iraq now, and the Bush administration's insistence that there was indeed a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Today Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian intelligence warned the U.S. after 9-11 that Iraq was preparing attacks against the U.S."

Terry Moran, at the White House, began: "President Putin's statements come at just the right time for the White House, appearing to bolster the President's arguments on the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Mr Bush, appearing with his former rival, Senator John McCain, at Fort Lewis in Washington state, defended his decision to go to war in Iraq."
Bush, to troops: "This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups. This is a regime that hated America. And so we saw a threat and it was a real threat."
Moran, over video of Putin at a long table with flags behind him: "President Putin, in Kazakhstan today, went further, saying that before the war Russian intelligence uncovered Iraqi plots to attack the U.S."
Moran then read this text, which ABC put on screen next to a still shot of Putin: "'The Russian Special Services received information of that kind, information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it.'"
Moran: "Before the war the administration issued several public warnings that Saddam Hussein may have sent agents into the U.S. to launch attacks, but Putin's comments are the first sign that Russia may have learned of such plots. Putin did not mention al-Qaeda, but Vice President Cheney continued the administration's aggressive response to the 9-11 Commission's finding that Saddam and al-Qaeda had quote, 'no collaborative relationship.'"
Cheney on CNBC: "The notion that there is no relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, ah, just simply is not true."
Putin: "Cheney received support in his argument from the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the commission."
Kean: "Were there contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq? Yes. Some of them are shadowy, but there's no question they were there."
Moran concluded: "White House officials declined to comment on Putin's statement, and a State Department official say they rang no bells over there. But they will clearly help the administration justify the war in the coming campaign."

But only if people hear about it, which CBS and NBC are doing their best to make sure does not occur.

NBC Disputes Bush on Zarqawi Tie to al-Qaeda,
But NBC Said So

Friday's NBC Nightly News devoted a story to undermining President Bush's contention that the presence of terrorist Musab Abu al-Zarqawi in Iraq long before the U.S. invasion is "evidence" of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Jim Miklaszewski highlighted how "U.S. military officials tell NBC News, despite sporadic contact in recent years, Zarqawi is now working against al-Qaeda in an effort to establish himself as the top Islamic terrorist in the region." But maybe Bush watches and believes the NBC Nightly News, which has repeatedly run stories linking Zarqawi to al-Qaeda, as recently as the night before Miklaszewski's piece. In May, a NBC News reporter described Zarqawi as "Osama bin Laden's top commander in Iraq."

On a night when NBC ignored Putin's revelation about how Saddam Hussein's regime planned to carry out terrorist acts within the U.S. (see item #1 above), Miklaszewski started his June 18 story: "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted man in Iraq, accused of directing a relentless campaign of suicide bombings and personally beheading American Nick Berg. This week, President Bush said Zarqawi is also the terrorist link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden."
Bush in Rose Garden earlier in week: "Zarqawi's the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda."
Miklaszewski: "But U.S. military officials tell NBC News, despite sporadic contact in recent years, Zarqawi is now working against al-Qaeda in an effort to establish himself as the top Islamic terrorist in the region. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld suggested Zarqawi has had a falling out with bin Laden."
Donald Rumsfeld: "Maybe because he disagrees with him on something. Maybe because he wants to be the man himself."
Miklaszewski: "U.S. officials say Zarqawi wants to take control of western Iraq to establish terrorist training camps and a base from which to launch terrorist attacks throughout the region, much like bin Laden used Afghanistan....Officials here [at Pentagon] say it's absolutely imperative Zarqawi be killed or captured -- but military's been totally frustrated. They think they know where Zarqawi is, they just can't get at him. It's believed Zarqawi is holed up in Fallujah, where U.S. Marines are still observing a cease-fire. But military officials tell NBC News the Marines were unaware that one of Zarqawi's top lieutenants actually took part in the cease-fire talks and apparently struck a deal with Iraqi security forces that gives Zarqawi and his terrorist followers sanctuary. The U.S. military is preparing plans to launch new raids into Fallujah, but there's no guarantee that even then they'll get the elusive Zarqawi."

Four examples of reporters on NBC Nightly News stating a tie between Zarqawi and al-Qaeda and/or bin Laden:

-- June 17. David Gregory: "The Vice President, in an interview with CNBC's Capital Report, elaborated on the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

-- May 17. In the wake of the assassination of Iraqi Governing Council chief Izzadine Saleem, Ned Colt relayed from Iraq how "the U.S. military says the attack had the signature of al-Qaeda linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

-- May 13. Tom Brokaw, a few days after the Nick Berg beheading which is attributed to Zarqawi: "al-Zarqawi is considered to be a close ally of Osama bin Laden and is believed to be behind more than a dozen high-profile attacks in Iraq."

-- May 11. Richard Engel, immediately after Berg beheading: "The executioner, identified by the Web site where the video was released, as none other than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden's top commander in Iraq."

Madonna: Bush and Hussein "Alike" in
Wanting "World Domination"

George Bush and Saddam Hussein are a lot "alike." Singer/actress "Madonna," who now wants to be known as "Esther," argued in an interview shown on Friday's 20/20 on ABC, that George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein "both have very equally narrow views about how to solve problems and it is all about power, the struggle for oil and the struggle for world domination," thus they "are both behaving in an irresponsible manner, so in that respect, they're alike."

In his present circumstances, I don't think Saddam Hussein has much of a chance to achieve "world domination."

Good Morning America, on Friday, ran a preview of the then-upcoming Madonna/Esther interview conducted by Cynthia McFadden in a living room setting. The MRC's Jessica Anderson took down this exchange:

Madonna/Esther: "They [President Bush and Saddam Hussein] are very different people serving very different purposes. They both have very equally narrow views about how to solve problems and it is all about power, the struggle for oil and the struggle for world domination, and at the end of the day, are they that different? You know what I mean? I mean, I don't want to equate George Bush with Saddam Hussein. I believe the George Bush and Saddam Hussein are both behaving in an irresponsible manner, so in that respect, they're alike."
McFadden: "The Dixie Chicks got into a lot of trouble for criticizing the President a lot less than you just did."
Madonna/Esther: "I don't think you're going to find many people who think that the war in Iraq, at this point, was a good idea."
McFadden: "Will you vote?"
Madonna: "Absolutely."
McFadden: "Care to tell us for whom?"
Madonna: "Well, I mean, what are my options? I'm not voting for George Bush."

A Friday Reuters dispatch explained her name change: "Assuming a newly modest public image more in keeping with that of a nice Jewish girl than a 'Material Girl,' pop star Madonna says she has adopted the Hebrew name of Esther. The Catholic-bred singer/actress said in an ABC News 20/20 interview airing on Friday that her identification with the Biblical queen celebrated in the Jewish festival of Purim stems in part from her adherence to the study of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah."

For the Internet Movie Database's page on Madonna: www.imdb.com

For Esther's Web site, which is still at Madonna.com: www.madonna.com

# ABC considers Michael Moore to be a news figure, apparently, since he'll be a guest on Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

-- Brent Baker