2. Frist Displeases Couric, Next Day Biden's Answers Please Lauer
Bob Woodward's revelations, in a Wednesday Washington Post front page story, "Woodward Was Told of Plame More Than Two Years Ago," seemingly undermined two premises of special prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald's case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former Chief-of-Staff -- that he was the first to tell a reporter about Valerie Plame and that everyone involved remembers when they were told about Plame. But while the developments animated cable television all day, all the broadcast networks ignored it in the morning and in the evening both CBS and NBC, which led October 28 with multiple stories of Fitzgerald's indictments, spiked the story while ABC's World News Tonight devoted a piddling 31 seconds to Woodward's disclosures. The CBS Evening News found time for supposed dangers to kids of cold medicines and a look at "why the obesity crisis is far worse for African-Americans." The NBC Nightly News provided stories on claims the U.S. used "chemical weapons" in Iraq and on the effectiveness of diet pills. On Thursday morning, CBS held the development to a very brief news update item, NBC squeezed it into the very end of a session with Tim Russert while ABC actually touted it at the top of Good Morning America and provided a full story.
[This item is an expansion upon an article posted Wednesday night on the MRC's NewsBusters.org blog. To join the discussion, go to: newsbusters.org ]
At his October 28 press conference, Fitzgerald asserted, as shown on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume: "He [Libby] was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter." In fact, the Post reported that "a senior administration official," not Libby, told Woodward "about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed" and thus before Libby talked about it with a reporter, a disclosure which provides some support for Libby's contention that he heard about Plame from a journalist. The Post also noted how "the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling" in 2003 about Plame's job, Walter Pincus, "does not recall the conversation taking place," thus boosting Libby's contention that different people can have different recollections of old conversations.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews saw nefarious motives behind Woodward's source allowing him to talk: "A confidential source could be using rolling disclosure here for a political purpose."
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas delivered this short item on the November 16 World News Tonight:
Instead of covering the Woodward revelations, the CBS Evening News led with tornadoes, followed by Iraqis who tortured Iraqis, John Roberts on the Bush administration distracted by the torture issue and Bush's approach to North Korea, dangers to children from cold medicines, IRS efforts to pull the tax deductibility from a California church at which a minister criticized President Bush and suggested parishioners vote for John Kerry and, finally, Mika Brzezinski on "why the obesity crisis is far worse for African-Americans."
The NBC Nightly News led with the supposed "housing crisis" for those in FEMA-paid hotel rooms who have been told to find other accommodations by the end of the month, followed by Iraqis torturing other Iraqis, the "controversy" spurred by an Italian media claim that a year ago in Fallujah the U.S. employed "chemical weapons," specifically "white phosphoreus," David Gregory with Bush in South Korea and how "his tour of the region has already been interrupted by Iraq and the nagging question of U.S. troop withdrawal. In Japan, the President blasted Senate Democrats for their attempt to require a pull-out schedule," tornadoes, efforts to protect U.S. chickens from the bird flu, a full story on diet pills, the death of Ralph Edwards and, in the last piece, a look at a soldier from Buffalo back from Iraq and working to help kids he met there.
Chris Matthews spent much of Wednesday's Hardball peppering guests with his theory that the "senior administration official" who talked to Woodward allowed Woodward to reveal the conversation, but not to disclose his name, because he just wanted to help Libby and so may be an insider with a political motivation. The MRC's Brad Wilmouth took down a representative sampling of how Matthews hit Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., who appeared from the newspaper's offices:
Chris Matthews: "Well, the source, in other words, I'm afraid, well, let me ask you about being used here by a source. The source says you can testify about it, says to Bob you can testify under oath, of course, because you're fee to do that, I waive that. You can testify as to the message. You can say somebody leaked this back in mid-June of 2003 before it was leaked by Scooter Libby, according to the indictment language. In other words, that's all useful to somebody if they want to help get Scooter off. But it's not telling the whole story, just telling the useful part of the story. I mean, the people over at Libby's legal operation are ecstatic now."
The MRC's Michael Rule, Geoffrey Dickens and Brian Boyd provided transcripts of what the broadcast network morning shows delivered on Thursday morning, November 17:
# CBS's The Early Show. In the 7am news update, as his third item, Harry Smith relayed: "There is new focus for the CIA leak investigation thanks to Bob Woodward. The Washington Post reporter says that more than 2 years ago a Bush administration official told him Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA. He says he didn't think it was important at the time, his source has not been identified."
Lauer: "Other big story I want to talk real briefly about. Bob Woodward has now gone and testified before the grand jury looking into the CIA leak case. Did his testimony, based on what you've heard and what you've read, strengthen or weaken the special prosecutor's case?"
Roberts narrated a full story about it during the first news update of the show:
Roberts: "In Washington, Bob Woodward's new testimony in the CIA leak case is being called a bombshell. It could mean that the special prosecutor's investigation will be extended. In a deposition that lasted more than two hours, Woodward revealed that a top administration official other than Scooter Libby mentioned Valerie Plame Wilson well before her identity was revealed to the public."
When Republican Senator Bill Frist on Tuesday, in discussing the Republican proposal for a resolution on turning Iraqi security over to Iraqis next year, provided answers which closely matched the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, Today co-host Katie Couric snapped at him: "Other than parroting the goals of the White House, can you explain to the American people specifically what you want this proposal to do?" But on Wednesday morning, Today was more respectful of Democratic Senator Joe Biden as Matt Lauer worried to Biden about whether the Senate resolution, which did not have the withdrawal timetables proposed by Democrats, has "any teeth in it?" Reporter Kelly O'Donnell opened her report by using language that Joe Biden would later cite in his interview: "President Bush is again defending his stand on Iraq brushing off the latest frustrations from Congress."
[This item is adopted from two postings this week, by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, on the MRC's NewsBusters.org blog. For his item about Today and Frist: newsbusters.org For his item on Today and Biden: newsbusters.org ]
# Couric set up her November 15 session with Senate Majority Leader Frist: "On Close Up this morning a possible exit plan in Iraq. As we've reported the Senate is considering a Republican proposal today that would put Iraqi troops front and center in the defense of their nation and could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops there. Republican Senator Bill Frist is the Majority Leader, he's at a Habitat For Humanity site on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Senator Frist good morning to you."
Couric's first question: "Let me ask you a few questions if I could Senator, about the news of the day. I know that later today you and Senator Warner of Virginia will be talking about a plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. What exactly are you proposing?"
Couric soon pressed again: "Are you concerned, though, that this proposal will add fuel to the fire that, that the President has been discussing recently that it may erode America's standing in the world if it even appears to be a cut-and-run strategy and it might embolden the enemy and hurt morale of the troops who are over there?"
Technical problems with the satellite from DC led Couric to suspend the interview, which they resumed a few minutes later, and Couric re-launched her questioning by slapping Frist for the substance of his earlier answers:
# Couric opened the Wednesday, November 16 Today: "Then the war in Iraq. It's becoming increasingly unpopular and Congress is trying to respond." A few minutes later NBC's Kelly O'Donnell opened her report using language that Joe Biden would later cite in his interview: "Good morning, Ann. President Bush is again defending his stand on Iraq brushing off the latest frustrations from Congress."
Then at 7:14am Lauer prompted Biden with his first question:
After Biden claimed, "We're losing the American people,' Lauer then asked: "So you got some cooperation on this bill but there seems to be disagreement as to what it means? Harry Reid the leader of the, of the Democrats in the Senate said it's a no confidence vote in the Bush administration's Iraqi policy. The White House basically said it's an endorsement of that policy. How do you see it?"
No big surprise as to which way Biden saw it, as he replied: "Well let me ask you a rhetorical question Matt. Do you think they're happy that we passed it? I think that's the answer to the question." Biden then picked up on Kelly O'Donnell's earlier "frustration" line: "The truth of the matter is that the administration did not want to see this come up. They did not want to see this pass. It does reflect as one of you or Katie said earlier the frustration of the United States Congress with the unwillingness or inability of the President to lay out what is the plan for success other than, 'stay the course and not one day longer.'"
Lauer then tossed this softball Biden's way: "Do you think the Republicans were forced to put forth this amendment seeing 2006 as a transition year in Iraq because 2006 is also a midterm election year and they had to send a message to voters saying, '€˜we understand the growing discontent with this war?'"
Biden pointed out how some of Today show's frequent and favorite Republican guests were critical of the administration: "There is an overwhelming frustration. You've had so many people on your show, Matt, Republicans who haven't disagreed with a thing I've said or I've not disagreed with them. The John McCains, the Chuck Hagels, a whole lot of people over there who are very concerned that there doesn't seem to be a coherent plan or at least if there is one we're not being told it."
Biden's citing of McCain prompted Lauer to ask about the administration's stance on torture: "Let me ask you about some, some wording in the larger defense bill, bill. There's, there's wording on the use of torture in that, that was put forth by John McCain. It says in terms of the use of torture that it would be, it would 'prohibit the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees and standardize interrogation procedures used by the U.S.' Now the White House has said, they've threatened to veto any bill that contained that language. Where's this gonna go?"
-- Brent Baker