2. WashPost's Connolly & Kurtz Fret Over How White House Used Media
3. Morning Shows Pound Rice on How Baghdad Unsafe, No 9/11-Iraq Tie
The Reagans as Belittling and Derogatory as Feared
Bob Schieffer's bait and switch. At the top of Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, Schieffer promised that his guests, "three eminent historians," would address the questions of the day: "How will the war in Iraq affect the election? How is President Bush dealing with the crisis compared to former Presidents? And why is the country so divided?" Schieffer's historians may have been "eminent," but they were two liberals, Robert Dallek and David Maraniss, and a left-winger, Gary Wills, and they all shared a disdain for President Bush and a disappointment in how Democrats are supposedly going too easy on him.
Schieffer skewed the discussion by presuming, though Bush's approval ratings in all major polls is above 50 percent, that the country is disillusioned and looking for a new direction. He contended: "There's almost -- as Garry Wills said, the Democratic Party seems to be in his term 'pitiful shape.' And yet, you know, the, nobody seems all that happy or a lot of people don't seem all that happy with the Bush administration. What breaks this?"
Dallek suggested a woman President and Wills lamented the lack of attention to how Bush's "ravaging of the ecology, much more giving in to pharmaceutical companies and others and oil companies. The amazing thing is that the Democrats have not been able to focus on the fact that this is the most business-oriented, secretly hidden contract" administration in history."
Dallek, between reminiscing about the wonders of the Kennedy years ("John Kennedy, to this day, has an extraordinary hold on the world's imagination"), agreed with Wills' disappointment in Democrats: "It's amazing that the Democrats have been relatively ineffective in bringing that across to people and raising the consciousness and making people feel, 'Look, this administration is not really on your side. They pretend to be...'"
Maraniss, who wrote a biography of Bill Clinton, rued how the deregulatory horrors averted in the Gingrich era are now coming to fruition under Bush.
Setting up the show, Schieffer identified Wills as the author of Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, Robert Dallek as the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, and David Maraniss as author of They Marched Into Sunset: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967.
Schieffer prompted Wills at one point: "Garry Wills, you've watched a lot of Presidents, you've written about a lot of them, all the way back to Lincoln, I suppose. Now you've got a new book out about Jefferson. How do you view Bush and his presidency as he nears the end of his first term?"
Wills, from Chicago: "Well, I think it was a great lost opportunity. Right after the attack on the World Trade Center, the whole world coalesced around us. NATO suspended its rules. They were, there was an outpouring of genuine feeling. And we had the chance then to go to the world, to the UN, and to say, 'This is an attack on all of us. This is a crime. And we have to mobilize police forces to chase down these people in whatever country they're in. And we need your intelligence, we need your help, we need cooperation. This is a worldwide thing.' And instead we rebuffed them, we said we didn't need them. We offered to have pre-emptive war. We went on our own. We gave contracts only to our own. We made it clear that we didn't want anything but money and bodies, not anybody to help us, to advise us, to work with us. Great opportunity lost."
Schieffer turned to Dallek: "Professor Dallek, would you agree with that? That's pretty strong, pretty strong talk there." Dallek agreed: "It is strong talk, and I think it's wise. I think it's on the mark. You know, Winston Churchill once said, 'The only thing worse than having allies is not having them.' And most American Presidents in this postwar era, and going back to World War II, lived by that proposition. But this administration seems to have alienated an awful lot of our allies and neutral nations. The most shocking statistic I saw was that Indonesia -- 75 percent approval rating for the United States, for America, before the Bush administration began. It's now down to 15 percent. It's really very distressing that we've alienated so many people around the globe."
Maraniss soon echoed the hostility to Bush: "I agree with their assessment of his handling of the rest of the world in terms of bringing them in on this. I think that in terms of the war itself, I think that's incomplete, and we really don't know yet about that. So I'd probably give him a little more of a break on that."
Maraniss soon saw similarities with Vietnam: "But that's an exact parallel with Vietnam right there. My book is about October of 1967 when the Johnson administration would not admit that they'd made any mistakes and were trying to send the Cabinet out to the country to say, 'We're getting it right. We're winning. And the press is getting it wrong.' And that's a parallel with today as well."
When Schieffer wondered "what do you think the state of the Democratic Party is right now?", Wills took them on from the left: "It's pitiful. These are, these are not very impressive people and the Democratic Party has not been very impressive. After all, George Bush didn't even win the popular vote, and they immediately rolled over, the Democratic Senate, and confirmed Ashcroft. They voted for the tax, they voted for the authorization of the war. They have no sense of self-worth or anything of that sort. I don't think any of them can beat George Bush. I think only George Bush can beat George Bush, and he well may."
Schieffer contended that "nobody seems all that happy, or a lot of people don't seem all that happy, with the Bush administration," and Dallek answered: "Well, this is not unprecedented. We've gone through long periods in our presidential history when the Presidents weren't very exciting people and people didn't remember 10 years later who had served in the office. I think we need something electric, something that is going to generate a kind of excitement. And I think that will come if we elect a woman as President of the United States because this would be such a departure from what we've had before, sort of like John Kennedy winning as the first Catholic in American presidential history...."
Wills maintained that "gay marriage will come eventually if that's seen as a right, but it seems to me not a real issue that you should pin the hopes of the nation on when we have much more serious things going on, much more ravaging of the ecology, much more giving into pharmaceutical companies and others and oil companies. The amazing thing is that the Democrats have not been able to focus on the fact that this is the most business-oriented, secretly hidden contract -- hidden conferencing administration in history."
Dallek opined: "Well, you know, Bob, what I think is you need a candidate who makes people feel that he or she is on their side. I think back to that wonderful anecdote about Franklin Roosevelt. After he died, Mrs. Roosevelt was stopped by somebody on the street and they said to her, 'I miss the way your husband used to speak to me about my government.' Now who can imagine someone saying that about any political officeholder nowadays? Somebody needs to come across that way to the public, that they're on their side. Garry's point that this administration has been so secretive and so much in the pockets of the corporations, and it's amazing that the Democrats have been relatively ineffective in bringing that across to people and raising the consciousness and making people feel, 'Look, this administration is not really on your side. They pretend to be. There's a lot of rhetoric and their style is' -- they've very effective politicians. They're very shrewd."
Maraniss chimed in with awful memories of what was delayed from 1995: "I spent the whole year of 1995 studying the Gingrich revolution and the way they were trying to rewrite the regulatory laws of the United States. And they weren't, in the end, able to do it because of a Democratic President. And now you've got this happening over the last year in ways that aren't really being covered because of the war and so many other things dominating the coverage."
While virtually all Americans of any political stripe were pleased for the troops that a few hours of secrecy enabled the President to pay a surprise visit on Thanksgiving Day to Baghdad to thank them in person and boost their spirits, Washington Post reporters Ceci Connolly and Howard Kurtz, echoing a complaint from Tom Rosentiel of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, fretted about the media being used by the White House.
On Fox News Sunday, political reporter Connolly said the arrangements in which reporters on the trip had to keep the secret "makes me extremely uncomfortable" because of "the control that this administration has exerted over image," such as not allowing photographs of "the bodies of American soldiers when they return to Dover Air Force base." Bringing up old complaints, Connolly whined: "This is a candidate who in 2000 raised more money than anyone in history and yet the press could never go into those fundraisers. So, George Bush, from the time he was a candidate in 2000, right on through the Thanksgiving Day, has absolutely controlled, maybe even manipulated the press."
Kurtz, hosting CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, grilled his guests repeatedly about the appropriateness of reporters cooperating with the White House, but neither guest -- Washington Post reporter Mike Allen or Newsweek's Don Klaidman -- agreed. Kurtz complained about how "they put out a false story," pressed Allen about how "in retrospect, was the press used here for an elaborate two-hour turkey filled presidential photo-op?" and was disturbed about all the positive coverage Thursday on cable: "It sounded like he landed on the moon instead of in Baghdad."
The details from the two November 30 programs:
-- Fox News Sunday. Host Tony Snow, in his last week in the chair, read what Rosenstiel, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, told Kurtz in a Friday Post story: "That's just not kosher.... Reporters are in the business of telling the truth. They can't decide it's okay to lie sometimes because it serves a larger truth or good cause."
Post reporter Ceci Connolly agreed with Rosentiel's sentiment: "I think I know what Tom is getting at there and I would tend to agree with him for the most part. I think it's important, though, to note for our viewers that often news organizations, all of our news organizations, will withhold some bit of information, especially if it involves something like movement of troops. Certainly many of our news organizations knew precisely when we were going to be going into Baghdad. In many cases we were embedded with those troops, and never did we dream of letting that kind of information out. This is a little bit different. This was not a troop movement. Yes, there were certainly security issues involved, but to insist to reporters that they hand in cell phones and pagers and really not be able to discuss this with their bosses, makes me extremely uncomfortable, especially when you juxtapose that with the control that this administration has exerted over image. Think for one minute: We are not allowed to photograph the bodies of American soldiers when they return to Dover Air Force base. You cannot show a picture of that."
-- CNN's Reliable Sources. Kurtz opened his show: "Holiday deception. President Bush makes a surprise visit to the troops in Baghdad, after the White House puts out a bogus story that he would be spending Thanksgiving at the Crawford ranch. Was the administration justified in misleading reporters? Were the White House correspondents who made the trip used for a presidential photo-op? And will ordinary Americans care?"
Kurtz was more upset than his guests. He asked Allen, who was part of the pool team which went to Baghdad: "Now, did you feel uncomfortable at all, uncomfortable at all having to keep that White House secret? You didn't even tell your editors who sounded a little miffed."
Kurtz turned to Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief Don Klaidman, who was in-studio: "Should the White House be in the position of misleading the press about this sort of thing? I mean, it was great for the President to go over there and rally the morale of the troops, but they put out a false story."
Kurtz turned back to Allen: "In retrospect, was the press used here for an elaborate two-hour turkey filled presidential photo-op?" And Kurtz complained: "It has something in common with the President's landing on the USS Lincoln, which is it was all about the pictures. All we had was the video. You couldn't even file yet while you were on your way back from Baghdad, and so those pictures were rerun again and again on television."
Klaidman soon contradicted Kurtz's concerns: "You know, on the point about whether the press was used, I think sometimes doing the right thing also happens to be the right thing politically. I think this is one of those cases. And, you know, look, the press is used -- the press is used one way or the other, and they're a part of the story one way or the other. If we had not gone along and kept this secret, and somehow it had gotten out and it jeopardized the mission, we would have been part of the story, as well...."
Kurtz acknowledged how he's probably out of step: "Dan Klaidman, there's been a lot of grumbling among reporters. For example, CNN was relieved of the pool duty on Wednesday, was told -- that was their day, told nothing else was going to happen. Fox got the pool duty on Thursday, which meant that Fox's Jim Angle went on the trip. Does all this sound like sour grapes to most people out there? Do any Americans care whether they put out a phony Thanksgiving story or not, as long as the president gets to show up in Baghdad?"
On Friday morning the broadcast network morning show hosts pounced on National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, demanding to know if the secret trip to Baghdad by President Bush was politically-motivated, with ABC's Charlie Gibson arguing that there was "symbolism that the things are so unstable that he had to sneak in in darkness, that, that he never left the airport, that could only stay two and a half hours."
CBS's Harry Smith stated as fact that there was no connection between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein, and seemed to assume there are no terrorists in the world who want to kill Americans other than the ones who attacked on 9-11, as he challenged Rice: "The President said during his remarks to the troops, he said: 'You're defeating terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to face them in our own country.' Now, there's no connection between Iraq and 9/11. Why does the President persist in tying those two together?"
Over on NBC's Today, Matt Lauer suggested Bush was just trying to make up for bad publicity generated "because he did not attend any of the funerals of the fallen soldiers in Iraq," and so "some family members felt he was not showing compassion or a connection to the suffering that they have felt as a result of this war." Lauer wanted to know: "Was this trip an effort to blunt that criticism?"
All the interview sessions on Friday morning, November 28, started with how the trip was pulled off. But then the hosts got tougher:
-- ABC's Good Morning America. Charles Gibson contended that "everybody" was wondering if it was a trip motivated by policy or politics: "Did it originate with [White House Chief-of-Staff Andy] Card, though? 'Cause everybody's wondering did this come from the political side of the White House or from the policy side." Rice: "No, the, the President had been thinking for some time that it might be a good thing to go to Baghdad. I had talked to him about it, about when could he get into Iraq...."
-- CBS's The Early Show. Smith matched Gibson's interest: "Was this trip personal or political?"
Smith: "Certainly the soldiers that were interviewed said it was a major morale boost, to have the President, have the Commander-in-Chief there. But you brought something up, an interesting point, why they're there. The President said during his remarks to the troops, he said: 'You're defeating terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to face them in our own country.' Now, there's no connection between Iraq and 9/11. Why does the President persist in tying those two together?"
Smith, like nearly all of the media, have suppressed any coverage for what Stephen Hayes outlined in the November 24 Weekly Standard: "Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda -- perhaps even for Mohamed Atta -- according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by The Weekly Standard."
For an excerpt from Hayes' article and a link to the full article, see the November 17 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
-- NBC's Today. Matt Lauer asserted: "Let's talk about some criticism that's been leveled at President Bush as of late Doctor Rice. And that is that because he did not attend any of the funerals of the fallen soldiers in Iraq some family members felt he was not showing compassion or a connection to the suffering that they have felt as a result of this war. Was this trip an effort to blunt that criticism?"
Lauer cited the same quote as CBS's Smith, but had a different twist on it: "During his speech he said quote, 'you are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq so that we don't have to face them in our own country.' The first part of that sentence, Doctor Rice -- 'you are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq' -- when you consider November was the deadliest month in Iraq since the end of major combat was declared, an estimate of about 30 attacks on U.S. forces a day. Can we make that kind of definitive statement, because in some ways it seems as if the terrorists have been emboldened?"
I spent three hours -- two hours and 53 minutes to be exact -- on Sunday night watching The Reagans on Showtime so I could spare you the pain: The movie, originally produced as a two- part mini-series for CBS, was every bit as awful as conservatives feared with a belittling portrayal of Ronald Reagan. The movie delivered a cartoonish Ronald Reagan, played by James Brolin, who read words fed to him by others, seemed capable only of uttering short quips about "commies" and "big government" and followed the orders of others -- mainly an all-controlling Nancy Reagan, played by Judy Davis, who came across every bit as what rhymes with witch.
Before the showing of the movie, Matt Blank, Chairman and CEO of the Showtime Networks, delivered a condescending introductory message in which he bemoaned how the movie "has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency," though that was exactly what viewers were about to see. He also maintained that "nearly all" of the "facts" are true: "Nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched."
And the bias didn't relent after the movie when the producers displayed their political agenda in a series of on-screen text messages which highlighted how Reagan helped Saddam Hussein and blamed Reagan for AIDS deaths.
On the production values side, the film's shallowness and brief scenes meant it didn't approach the quality and authenticity of NBC's The West Wing.
After nearly three hours of scenes of a befuddled Reagan barely able to comprehend what aides around him are discussing, a bunch of very weird scenes of dreams in which Ronald Reagan imagines himself as a lifeguard saving present-day administration officials, and numerous temper tantrums between Nancy and daughter Patti, interrupted by Nancy consulting her astrologer and telling Mike Deaver how ketchup really is a vegetable, it's hard to imagine how anyone not familiar with the Reagan years -- anyone under age 30 or so -- would have any idea how he won election to any office, never mind a landslide re-election to the presidency.
On the political policy front, the movie basically jumped from negative anecdote to negative anecdote, highlighting a liberal hit parade from the 1980s: Reagan saying trees cause pollution, the administration counting ketchup as a vegetable, Reagan sleeping through a Libyan attack on an Air Force jet, embarrassment over SS graves at the Bitburg cemetery visited by Reagan, and how Reagan said he "saw" the "horrible" holocaust though he was in Hollywood during the war. (He probably was amongst the first to see the video of the death camps.)
And you don't have to take my word for how bad a movie CBS commissioned: On Saturday, Showtime let some TV critics see it and a few managed to write up reviews in time for their Sunday papers.
In the Los Angeles Times, state politics columnist Patt Morrison observed: "The problem Reagan's admirers and chroniclers will find is that's about all there is here; we get Iran-Contra, but not Reagan's 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' We get the stupefyingly ill-advised visit to a cemetery where Nazi SS troops were buried, but not the Reagans teary-eyed at the memorial for the Challenger astronauts."
For Morrison's November 30 review in full: www.latimes.com
For Bauder's November 29 review: story.news.yahoo.com
The Washington Post's liberal Tom Shales found some "endearing" moments, but he suggested: "Nancy Reagan as Cruella De Vil and Ronald Reagan as the nearsighted Mister Magoo? There are those who will probably find the depictions of the former President and First Lady in The Reagans just that simplistic and cartoonish."
Shales elaborated: "The film, while not a hatchet job or unrelentingly vicious attack, definitely makes the Reagans rather freakish creatures, Nancy with her fanatical reliance on an astrologer and her tendency to sob and rant in the bathtub, Ronald haunted by nightmares of being a lifeguard, as he was in his youth, and being unable to 'save,' among others, figures in his administration who go down in disgrace."
He lambasted CBS: "There's enough nastiness and character assassination in the film -- even without the line about AIDS -- to make CBS look wise in pulling it off the network and foolish in having scheduled it in the first place. It's a matter of bad timing as well as bad manners; former President Reagan is not only still alive but seriously and terminally ill, making a drama riddled with slurs unseemly and hugely inappropriate."
For the November 30 review by Shales in full: www.washingtonpost.com
In Sunday's Miami Herald, Glenn Garvin conveyed: "The Reagans, which airs tonight on CBS' corporate cable cousin Showtime, portrays the former President as a bumbling bob who would have been more at home in a pie fight or an eye-poking contest than as leader of the free world. In the view of The Reagans, we should probably be thankful we didn't wind up with the chimp from Bedtime for Bonzo as Secretary of State."
While Garvin maintained that "the script of The Reagans is not the one-sided character assassination that conservatives were calling it a few weeks ago during the uproar that triggered the CBS cancellation," he reported: "It's still clear that the screenwriters (Jane Marchwood, Tom Rickman and Elizabeth Egloff) are not politically sympathetic to Reagan, particularly in the hysterical scenes in which he's blamed literally for the end of the world over his AIDS policies. And the sound-bite bits that they occasionally use from his speeches have been removed from all context, making them sound like troglodyte ravings. Easy enough to laugh now at talk of Soviet world domination, but nobody was giggling during the Berlin airlift or the Cuban Missile Crisis."
For Garvin's review in full: www.miami.com
In contrast, New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley didn't see what everyone else saw. Seemingly in a parallel universe, she insisted: "There is no reason Showtime's version of The Reagans could not have been broadcast on CBS earlier this month....Anyone eagerly anticipating or dreading a hatchet job on the 40th President is bound to feel confounded. James Brolin's portrayal of Ronald Reagan is uncannily convincing and respectful."
For Stanley's take in the "National" section of the Sunday New York Times: nytimes.com
Before the 8pm EST/PST showing of the movie, Matt Blank, Chairman and CEO of the Showtime Networks, delivered a condescending introductory message in which he bemoaned how the movie "has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency," though that was exactly what viewers were about to see; argued that the movie "is, in fact, an honest portrayal of many of the turning points in his life;" and, in an unintentionally humorous claim, maintained that "nearly all" of the "facts" are true: "Nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched."
Blank even wrapped himself in the flag: "We're pleased to live in a country where we're allowed to debate and question both our leaders and the world we live in."
Blank's pre-movie message: "As you probably know, The Reagans has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency. We believe it is, in fact, an honest portrayal of many of the turning points in his life and in his political career. His legacy did not come without serious political controversy, and this movie attempts to portray that controversy alongside his incomparable statesmanship, charisma and galvanizing political leadership. A diligent attempt was made by the filmmakers to have factual sources for every scene in this movie. For dramatic purposes, some dialogue has been embellished and some characters are composites. But nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched. Showtime is in a unique position to present programming that sparks this kind of debate, to take risks and to question and reexamine issues so that audiences can make judgments for themselves.
And the bias didn't relent after the movie when the producers displayed their political agenda in a series of five on-screen text messages which acknowledged Reagan accomplishments that were absent in the film while also highlighting how Reagan helped Saddam Hussein and blaming Reagan for AIDS deaths.
The text messages, as displayed in white text on a black background:
"A year after Reagan left office,
"In 1984, during the Iran-Iraq war,
"Reagan's economic policies
"Today in the United States,
"According to recent polls,
"Ronald Reagan currently
Showtime will re-air the movie tonight at 10pm EST on Showtime Too East and 10pm PST on Showtime Too West, airings which will follow a Showtime (on main channel, not Too) panel discussion about the movie at 9pm EST on Showtime East/9pm PST on Showtime West.
Showtime's page for the movie: www.sho.com
Showtime's page for its panel discussion: www.sho.com
With a few exceptions, and with some of the dialogue slightly changed, virtually every scene outlined in the November 25 CyberAlert preview, compiled by the MRC's Rich Noyes based on a script posted by Salon.com, appeared in the final cut. For the preview, see several items in the November 25 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org
Oh, and three last oddities I noticed:
b) As Ronald and Nancy dance in the hallway of the White House residence on the last day of his presidency, and he forgets the steps, out the window you see, very large, the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. A geographically-challenged camera angle.
c) The name of the actor who plays President Jimmy Carter: John Andersen, one letter off from the actual independent candidate in 1980.
-- Brent Baker